A breakdown of Hollywood’s latest Blockbuster The 355 and the mistakes it made.
With productions as weak as this, can a female-led production ever compete in a genre traditionally dominated by male white leads.
Since 2016, women in the spotlight have been on a mission to right the wrongs that came to the surface with the #METOO movement, and the movie enthusiasts among us were eager to see that impact filter into what we watch. Six years later, it is clear that women have a louder voice within the industry, and now, as we enter 2022, we’re introduced to Hollywood’s latest attempt to keep the conversation of the female takeover going.
On January 7th, theatres finally were able to release The 355 ‘When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, a wild card CIA agent joins forces with three international agents on a lethal mission to retrieve it, while staying a step ahead of a mysterious woman who’s tracking their every move’.
Originally intended to be released in January 2020, but like most films from the past few years, it was postponed due to Covid restrictions. So, as the promotion began once again, we got a chance to familiarize ourselves with the plot. At the same time, fantasize about the potential that comes with a cast as talented as this. However, like most things in life, things never seem to be as good as you hoped, and when my own experience of watching this film came to an end with the rolling credits. I was left sitting in my seat wondering if films like this are just a weak attempt to pander to an audience rather than actualizing a real sense of change at all?
In 2018, Jessica Chastain walked into the Cannes Film Festival hand in hand with her handpicked female cast — Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Fan Bingbing, and Marion Cotillard (later to be replaced by Diane Kruger due to personal reasons). This lineup would have caused a commotion, and rightfully so, there are six Oscar nominations between these actors and two wins. With just their presence, they are captivating, then you put them all in a room with film producers and say they will lead their own spy ensemble saga; that announcement practically sells itself!
And that is exactly what happened!
Chastain’s Freckle Films, FilmNation Entertainment, and CAA had not shared a script with potential buyers. Still, during a brief presentation, they weren’t even introduced to a plot or premise, simply that there would be fight scenes with motorcycles and a character similar to Q from the James Bond films. Apparently, that is all it takes to invest $40 million into a blockbuster production. Her costars praised Chastain for leading the charge and making this happen (because, truth be told, an action blockbuster featuring women in the lead roles is still not something that happens, even in 2022).
At this time, it was slated to be more of a James Bond-esque concept, but later would be described more as the Bourne or Mission Impossible franchises but with women.
Chastain wanted to make history with 355 and bring a new era of female heroes, but as the reviews rolled in, it seemed to have fallen short and flat despite the good intentions she had.
“There are six Oscar nominations between these actors, and two wins. So, yes, it must’ve been a very special project to draw each performer to the same story. Somehow, though, that picture got lost in transit, and we got stuck with The 355 instead. [Concluding] This is an ugly and aggressively underwhelming production, with action sequences having all the wit and energy of a chase scene on CSI.” – Den of Geek
“The plot, like everything else with the script by Theresa Rebeck and Simon Kinberg, is a patchwork of clichés.” — Todayheadline.co
“It has a stellar cast and it’s conceptually progressive, but The 355 squanders it all on a forgettable story, unremarkably told” — Rotten Tomatoes
So, what went wrong?
I made sure I had my ticket on the first day it was released (I guess I was also one of those who had been lured in by the promise that came with a cast like this). I had watched the trailers, perhaps set expectations at a little high, as I believe Jessica Chastain is one of our most valuable actresses of this generation, and she brought this film together, so it must be good!
We are first introduced to the MacGuffin that will drive this films motivation, and then a few scenes later, we enter a training location for American agents, and there she is. Chastain in a hand to hand practice session with a male colleague and kicking his butt! Her confidence is peaked; she is controlling the situation and obviously holds a high rank.
So far so good.
But unfortunately, her swiftness and command in combat are quickly diminished as her costar Sebastian Stan makes a quip about how she conducts herself in relationships.
“You fight like you date”
I’m mean, is that something we need in a movie that pertains to the strength of women in the spy/espionage world?
And please don’t get me started on the glamour shot as they walk into the auction; otherwise, I could be here all day (and night).
This pretty much lays out the underlining theme throughout; groups of men telling these women they are not as capable as them, and then these same women making sure they prove those men wrong.
While watching the 355, it didn’t take long for me to become uninterested in these characters and their journey. The actions scenes were messy, the dialogue and chemistry for this cast were all over the place, and the twists they tried to include simply left me motionless. I’m pretty sure as the film hit the halfway mark, I had forcefully rubbed a layer of skin off forehead as I tried to calm my rage because of the wasted talent and potential a film like this could have for similar films in the same genre being made. I felt the director, Simon Kinberg, completely squandered the gift he had been given.
Come to think of it, recent films that used the ‘all-female cast’ platform, which also didn’t exactly hit the intended audience as well as once thought, all have something in common.
Ghostbuster — Director — Paul Feig
Widows — Director — Steve McQueen
Oceans Eight — Director — Gary Ross
& now, 355 — Director — Simon Kinberg
Were there no female directors available?!
So, what will it take for Hollywood to finally have faith in their multifaceted women that are clearly able to handle more than they are being offered? And when will they realise that an audience can handle a female-led cast without pandering to the clichés that go against the very premise they are producing.
I, for one, want to see more films like this, but I do not want to sit through another film like this.