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8 Jan, 2022 17:10

‘The 355’ girl-power action movie is a failure, for one simple reason

The female-led spy film wastes its all-star cast on a forgettable, formulaic, neo-feminist fantasy
Michael McCaffrey
Michael McCaffrey

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

‘The 355’ girl-power action movie is a failure, for one simple reason

The 355, which premiered in theaters on January 7, is another one of those pieces of girl-power propaganda that is more interested in activism than entertainment.

The idea behind the movie was born when the film’s star, Jessica Chastain, spoke with writer and director Simon Kinberg about making a female-led James Bond and Mission Impossible type of spy/action movie. 

Kinberg then wrote an egregiously unimaginative script that featured a derivative plot and trite dialogue, and slapped female leads onto it as a twist. The end result is the almost instantaneously forgettable The 355.

The movie, the title of which is derived from Agent 355 – the codename for a female spy for America during the Revolutionary War – tells the story of a diverse group of female super-spies from across the globe who come together to stop a deadly computer weapon, which can infiltrate any system and crash everything from planes to stock markets, from falling into the wrong hands.

Of course, in order to check all the right boxes in this feminist fantasy and woke wet dream, the lady super-spies must all be of different skin colors and ethnicities.

Jessica Chastain is the white CIA agent, Lupita Nyong’o the black MI6 agent, Diane Kruger the hard-edged German BND agent, Penelope Cruz the fish-out-of-water Colombian DNI psychologist, and Fan Bingbing the mysterious Chinese MSS agent. It’s like the united colors of Benetton ads, except with bad-ass lady super-spies.

Not surprisingly, all of the heroes in the film are women, and all of the men are villains. These brave women fight to save the world from not only the murderous mansplaining misogyny of turncoats and terrorists, but also from the structural sexism of the all-powerful patriarchy in the form of the web of corrupt global intelligence agencies.

What’s so disheartening about The 355 is that the film’s leading ladies are incredibly talented dramatic actresses, with six Oscar nominations among them (and two wins), but they are woefully ill-suited for an action movie.

Producer and star Chastain has made a great deal about how, in order to keep costs for the film down, she did many of her own stunts. Unfortunately, it shows. Chastain is among the best dramatic actresses in the business, but she and her co-stars are embarrassingly unathletic, and their fight and action scenes are uncomfortably awkward.

This is not to say that women can’t be action heroes, they can, Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron are very good at that sort of thing, for instance. It is to say that being an action hero requires an athleticism and physical presence that none of the women in The 355 even remotely possess.

Just like I wouldn’t want to see Jason Statham do Shakespeare, I don’t need to see gifted thespians Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz and Lupita Nyong’o attempting to do mindless action sequences.

Another issue with the film is that director Simon Kinberg, who has been a successful screenwriter for a long time in Hollywood – scripting Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Sherlock Holmes and X-Men: Days of Future Past, among others, is simply not a proficient filmmaker.

Kinberg’s directorial shortcomings are on full display on The 355, as the poorly shot film is saddled with amateurish fight choreography and egregious editing errors.

Kinberg’s script is also painfully pedestrian, as he repeatedly uses tired tropes like ‘accidentally spilling drinks on a bad guy as a way to distract them and pick their pocket’ in order to keep the plot moving. His dialogue too is clunky and clichéd, featuring such eye-rolling gems as “Because we’re spies, asshole!”, and “James Bond never had to deal with real life!”, which was followed up by the lament “James Bond always ends up alone.

The 355, which was supposed to be released last January but was delayed due to Covid, has a production budget of $40 million but, despite being so economical (by Hollywood’s bloated standards), it faces an uphill battle to break even at the box office.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is simply an unstoppable juggernaut right now and the second-rate The 355 is going to be lost deep in its box-office shadow.

The film will also suffer because it’s just another in a long line of recent girl-power propaganda movies that were obviously more focused on getting their neo-feminist “women should behave like men” message out than on making a quality film.

Ghostbusters (2016), Ocean’s 8, Charlie’s Angels (2019), Terminator: Dark Fate, Birds of Prey and Black Widow, all put their neo-feminist message first and entertaining their audience second, and they either bombed or underperformed at the box office, struggling to break even.

The only reason many of the above-mentioned movies, as well as The 355, were made, was because they appeased the pussyhat-wearing brigade by featuring women as action heroes.

The problem, though, is that The 355, and many of its predecessors, are just dreadful movies and, fairly or not, their failures are seen by many to be a referendum on not only the future of female led-films, but also on the insipid cultural politics these films espouse.

A wise man, and it was most assuredly a man, as pop culture tells me my gender compulsively mansplains things, once said, “get woke, go broke.” In regards to The 355, that statement definitely holds true, as this shoddy, vacuously neo-feminist movie has earned the right to be entirely ignored. 

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