Simon Kinberg's 'The 355' is a Frothy Female-Centric Spy Thriller

Three women with guns point weapons in different directions
[L-R] Diane Kruger as MARIE, Jessica Chastain as MACE, Lupita Nyong'o as KHADIJAH in THE 355

Director Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) combines elements of the spy thriller and heist caper to make the female-driven The 355. Based on a screenplay Kingberg co-wrote with award-winning novelist and playwright, Theresa Rebeck, The 355 lacks substance but manages to be flashy, stylish, and fun.

The plot revolves around an omnipotent super drive that can access any system, giving incredible power to the one in possession. CIA operative Mason "Mace" Brown (a rosy-cheeked and luminous Jessica Chastain) goes on a fake honeymoon with her partner Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan) to acquire the drive from a seller. But her plans get thwarted when Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger), a rival spy from Germany with a duplicate assignment, interrupts the exchange and grabs the backpack meant for Mace and Nick. Mace calls in her longtime friend from MI-6, Khadijah (Lupita Nyong'o) to help reacquire the chip from Luis Rojas (Edgar Ramirez), who ends up with the drive. Penelope Cruz stars as Graciela Rivera, a DNI therapist who tries to help Luis turn himself in to the authorities and gets caught in the crossfire during a gunfight.

A man and woman share a drink together in a doorway
[L-R] Sebastian Stan as NICK, Jessica Chastain as MACE in THE 355

Initially Mace views Marie and Graciela as rivals, but the fun begins when all four of these strong female characters realize they are stronger working together than separate. They unite efforts and set out to acquire the super drive. Of course, there are twists and turns along the way. Sadly, there are no true surprises and a little too much commentary on what it means to be a female working in a male-dominated industry. I found myself annoyed at these wink-and-nod pieces of dialogue which did nothing but interrupt the flow of the story.

I suspect much of this is the work of Rebeck, who is known for interjecting commentary on female oppression in her scripts. But in the spy thriller – a genre driven by action and instinct – such commentary feels out of place. No need to drive the point home – having women in the lead is already exciting. Let the story play out naturally and speak for itself.

Four women in formalwear enter a room at the same time
[L-R] Penelope Cruz as GRACIELA, Jessica Chastain as MACE, Lupita Nyong'o as KHADIJAH, Diane Kruger as MARIE in THE 355
What does work here are the performances of this powerhouse ensemble of women, the action sequences, and the style. Let's face it – people come to spy thrillers for the action sequences and to see trained spies taking down their foes with prowess and finesse. Seeing beautiful women like Chastain, Kruger, Nyong'o, and, later on, Bingbing Fan (as a late arrival) defeat the supposedly stronger sex is a delight. Cruz plays a fish out of water who lacks experience in the field but rises to the task when her skills can be of use. And while the roles lack much substance, just like the film, it's hard to be bored when any of these superstars come on screen. Linda Dowd, who did the hair and makeup on Chastain, brought out the star's natural beauty in spades. Stephanie Collie designed the perfect costumes to match each character's sensibilities.

Of course, no spy film would be complete without a taut scene at an auction where all the pieces must fall in line for the mission to work, allowing the characters to dress up for a fancy evening out. Fighting in formalwear is always an eye-catching spectacle.

While The 355 doesn't break the mold of the spy thriller, viewers looking for an action-packed and stylish female-lead film will enjoy the trip. This cast can do anything. Save this one for a home rental when it becomes available.

Release info: In theaters January 7, 2022

Final score: 3 out of 5