"The 355" delivers all the glammed-up action you want from a badass women spy flick

While Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger are gutsy, Lupita Nyong'o is the secret weapon here

Published January 7, 2022 7:00PM (EST)

Diane Kruger, Jessica Chastain and Lupita Nyong'o in "The 355" (Robert Viglasky/Universal Pictures)
Diane Kruger, Jessica Chastain and Lupita Nyong'o in "The 355" (Robert Viglasky/Universal Pictures)

The fleet girls-with-guns flick, "The 355," takes its title from the code name given to a woman who spied for George Washington. This globe-hopping action film, directed by Simon Kinberg ("X-Men: Dark Phoenix"), who cowrote it with Theresa Rebeck, features a handful of female spies, along with numerous betrayals, double crosses, and reversals of fortune, along with several thrilling action set pieces. It is pure catnip for fans of the genre of beautiful women fighting off the bad guys with aplomb — see "Ocean's Eight," "Charlie's Angels," and any of the many Charlize Theron action films, e.g., "Atomic Blonde," or "The Old Guard."

The film's story is ridiculously simple. A data key that can access anything on the internet — it can cause planes to crash, or say, take out the entire power grid of Bogotá — ends up in the hands of Luis Rojas (Édgar Ramirez). He may be procuring it for Elijah Clarke (Jason Flemyng), a financier of international terror, who has nefarious plans. However, CIA operatives Mason "Mace" Browne (Jessica Chastain) and Nick (Sebastian Stan) meet Luis in Paris, where they hope to recover the dangerous device. Alas, things go sideways when German operative Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger) intercepts and the first of many exciting chase scenes with gunplay begins. 

Without revealing what transpires, Mace is off to England to reconnect with Khadijah (Lupita Nyong'o), a cyber intelligence agent and former MI6 operative who has left the field. Of course, Mace will get Khadijah to leave her dreamy boyfriend Abdel (Raphael Acloque) and help her. And by the end of the next action sequence, the two women meet up with Marie and Graciela (Penélope Cruz), a psychologist. They eventually join forces, rather than keep botching each other's ops. It is then off to Marrakesh for another action/chase/fight scene. Step and repeat. 

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"The 355" is mindless fun as these take-no-prisoners women act tough and fight hard. An amusing scene has the teammates bonding over beers and swapping stories about their "first kill" while Graciela, a naïve stranger to all of this derring-do, looks on in amazement. 

The stunts are often impressive. Mace shoots a motorcycle causing the driver to tumble down the stairs of the Metro in Paris, or jumps between shipping containers, in hot pursuit of the device. Chastain is a gutsy protagonist, and her moxie is appealing, even if her dialogue is crummy. Kruger also proves to be a force to be reckoned with, and her character gets a backstory involving her father, who was also a spy. (Marion Cotillard was originally slated for Marie when the film was announced at Cannes back in 2018). But the real secret weapon here is Lupita Nyong'o's Khadijah, who is smart, clever, and often dryly amusing. The sight of Nyong'o blasting away everyone in her path in one scene is highly enjoyable. (The film, which is rated PG-13, is mostly bloodless.)

Around the midway point, the data key ends up in an auction in Shanghai, where Lin Mi Sheng (Fan Bingbing) enters the picture. Her role — which includes making the film appeal to the Chinese market (though the actress was detained for tax evasion which jeopardized her participation) — becomes clear as the auction scene plays out. Apparently, Elijah Clarke has sent a proxy to do his bidding for the device using the dark web. 

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The auction sequence allows the women to get dressed up in fabulous clothes and elegant jewelry, which double as communication devices, natch. And "The 355" requires the spies to use their feminine wiles on unsuspecting men to procure information. While it is improbable that Penélope Cruz does not know how to flirt, as Graciela claims, it is delicious when she does. (See her work that cocktail straw). Of course, things do not go as planned, but the entertainment value here is watching the characters navigate each obstacle they encounter.

 "The 355" is not a deep or political film, but it does make the always salient point about how women do the work and men get the recognition. Moreover, this team of female spies "put themselves in danger so others are not," which is laudable. And while Mace and Marie dabble in the macho game of one-upmanship, these frenemies do respect each other. (In contrast, Khadijah really seems to prefer being out of the spy game, and Graciela is only dipping her toe into espionage out of circumstance.) The girl power messages are welcome even if they are clunky. Surely, it comes as no surprise that the men are no match for them. 

As the film builds to its literally explosive finale, there are not unexpected plot twists, and some predictable moments — especially in the coda. But "The 355" leaves itself open for a sequel for these women to come back and kick ass again.

"The 355" is in theaters Jan. 7. Watch a trailer for it below, via YouTube.

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By Gary M. Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is a writer and film critic based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter.

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