I have now presumably seen a film called The 355. Its images have washed over my eyeballs. I sat through two hours and four minutes of footage that could be called scenes, in which an absolutely stacked cast including Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, and Fan Bingbing said words that technically constitute as dialogue. Simon Kinberg directed the lot of it, and also Dark Phoenix, which is unfortunate. By next week, I will have forgotten that I ever saw this movie and will be ever so slightly happier for it, though I will not recall why. But I will be happier.
In The 355, an international A-team of girlbosses must come together to save the world from the ultimate dark web McGuffin—a master-key to all of everything, capable of knocking planes from the sky with a few quick keystrokes; sending cities or even the entire world into darkness and chaos just as simply.
Chastain, Kruger, and Nyong’o all play effectively the same character—girlboss secret agent lady 1, 2, and 3. Nyong’o’s is the special tech-savvy edition, but they’re still basically the same, and even go to the same hairstylist, who thus far has only perfected the tousled waves/curls look. Bingbing Fan is introduced too late to fully qualify as a character, while Penélope Cruz plays Graciela, the odd woman out—a “normal person” dragged into the mess by a more circuitous route—and the closest thing this film has to a breath of fresh air. She actually has emotions and there are a few moments where she single-handedly almost convinced me to care. Didn’t quite get there, but at least there was an effort.
Chastain, who also serves as a producer of the film under her Freckle Films banner, is definitely girlbossing by choice at this stage. Some people get crammed into a box by the industry; others build their own box and live there of their own volition. It’s a free country and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Bill Murray has been playing the same character, Bill Murray, since the 1970s. Adam Driver has spent the past several years dedicating himself more or less exclusively to playing Byronic heroes with levels of intensity ranging from “very” to “yikes.” But by god, girlboss is such a boring stomping ground to choose, particularly for someone as capable and talented as Chastain.
How hard does Chastain girlboss in this movie? Well, first of all, her character’s name is Mace, like the weapon. Short for Mason, because Strong Female Characters get a bonus for having masculine names (Rey, Ryan, Michael, Clarke, Oswin—the list goes on and it’s mostly written by dudes). After we first meet her wiping the floor with some nameless muscle man in sparring practice to show how she’s built like a tank, she then proceeds to face an even more formidable foe—Sebastian Stan coming at her with heart-shaped puppy-dog eyes dialed up to 11. She does not blush or fluster in the slightest, and no, she is not supposed to be gay or asexual; she’s just a stone-cold girlboss, so it’s no-strings-attached reluctant f*ck-buddies only. Because girlbosses are sex-positive, but would never, ever, ever have time for something a stupidly girlish as romance, of course. This is how we win at feminism, lads: dismissing anything traditionally considered feminine because we’re not like the other girls.
The 355 is so allergic to feelings that it doesn’t think to attempt banter between the central foursome until around the midpoint of the film. This occurs not long after the first time anything identifiable as a comedic beat is attempted. The lines in question? One character, about to disguise herself as a Muslim in a predominantly Muslim country, says “Allahu akbar,” and another character responds, “that hasn’t been my experience with him.” Hardy har har. I am dying. But actually, though. How did we get here, in this yawning chasm of a void where joy goes to die?
Since there’s no banter and no feelings in the first half, you might be wondering what does happen in the first act. The answer is that the limitless destructive powers of the central superweapon are re-iterated about twenty times in as many scenes. The film appears to be operating under the principle that repeating information will somehow make it more compelling, like a particularly annoying small child.
The 355 is technically a movie but feels more accurately described as a piece of evidence to be wheeled out when someone asks the question of why mainstream audiences aren’t showing up for anything short of Marvel extravaganzas anymore. Every cardinal sin of modern Hollywood is on display here, from that sickly grey pallor that has plagued films of late, like it was white balanced against two-week-old sludge scraped off a Manhattan sidewalk, to a lazy and joyless script. It’s a waste of talent and a waste of time, and if there’s to be a silver lining found here, it’s that maybe this two-hour yawn will remind everyone to leave this particularly tasteless flavor of girlboss back in the mid-2000s where she belongs, with low-rise jeans and crimped hair and fat-shaming female celebrities larger than a size 2.
The 355 is now playing in theaters.
Image sources (in order of posting): Robert Viglasky, Universal Pictures