Heart-pounding shootouts? Check. Global conspiracies? Check. Glitzy underworld parties, elusive weapons capable of kicking off “World War III” and stinging betrayals? Check, check and check. Sure, these elements are standard for just about every spy flick from “Bourne” to “Bond,” but they’re no less entertaining to watch—especially with a group of female agents (gasp!) leading the action.
“The 355” premieres today, Jan. 7, marking the year’s first blockbuster release despite rising box office woes over the Omicron variant. Jessica Chastain, who also produced the film and developed the concept, leads the cast as dedicated CIA agent Mason “Mace” Browne. When a hard drive capable of unleashing global destruction—yanking planes out of the sky, shutting down power grids, hacking any cell phone in the world, et cetera—goes missing, Browne teams up with former MI6 pal Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), German rival-agent-turned-ally Marie (Diane Kruger) and Penélope Cruz’s reluctant Graciela, a therapist for the Colombian secret service. Together, the four women go on a hunt that takes them across the world and back again, dogged by an enigmatic figure eventually revealed to be Chinese spy Lin Mi Sheng (“X Men: Days of Future Past” actress Bingbing Fan).
If the plot sounds a bit predictable, then you’ll be well prepared for “The 355”’s 124-minute runtime. This is no genre-redefining “Bourne Identity,” but writer and director Simon Kinberg keeps the film solidly entertaining despite the occasionally clunky dialogue that feels borrowed from dozens of spy movies before it. Although audiences will find themselves on well-trodden ground from the first opening firefight, there’s no denying that the good old shoot-em-up spy flick formula still works just as well for a group of female spies.
It helps that even when going through familiar paces, the film moves at a good clip. Fans of the aforementioned spy fare or even the “John Wick” series are sure to enjoy the well-executed chase scenes, which wisely stop shy of turning our protagonists into untouchable superheroines (yes, they do sweat and bleed just as much as their male counterparts). A late arrival on the screen, Fan still gets her fair share of the fun, including one memorable sequence where she takes down a squad of armed assailants with a staff.
Kinberg also punctuates the action with moments of introspection, a pleasant surprise after years of watching the blandly stoic 007s of the film world. The chemistry between the lead actresses shines in all-too-rare team bonding moments. Even after watching her brutally kill multiple people, it’s tough not to feel for the painfully aloof Marie as she describes her double-agent father with a distant look in her eyes. Graciela, as the sometimes underutilized softie of the group, provides a breath of fresh air in contrast to the rest of the team’s hard edge.
Overall, “The 355” makes for a decent entry to the spy genre, hitting traditional beats while still easily grabbing viewers’ attention. However, if there is one truly special set of skills these ladies possess, it’s the ability to conjure up an effortlessly glamorous wardrobe at any given location on the planet. With an ending ripe for a sequel, audiences will hopefully get to see Chastain’s team perform much more unique feats than that.