What if James Bond was a woman and incompetent?

I recently decided to end 2022 by catching up on the major films that I missed over the course of the year, because at some point I decided to How About Notflix more of a regular piece in my hobby writing. Which means I have a lot of ground to cover from 2022 alone, not to mention keeping up with 2023 and even going backwards. So instead of giving myself the usual choice paralysis, I just decided to go to Wikipedia, find the list of 2022 films, and go down starting from the top.

What a mistake-a to make-a.

Of course this process means starting off the marathon in “fuck you, it’s January” and that means kicking off with The 355. The 355 was directed by Simon Kinberg, who is certainly a writer. You may recognize Kinberg from his writing “talents” in films like the 2015 Fantastic Four debacle, the 2016 X-Men Apocalypse debacle, and the 2019 Dark Phoenix debacle. Evidently X-Men: Days of Future Past was the last time Simon Kinberg put effort into his work. The other writer, Theresa Rebek, you may remember from her stellar writing on the Halle Berry Catwoman film. The 355 went on to gross a whole $27.8 million off of a $75 million budget. Just pretend it’s Covid’s fault.

The 355 stars a team of international women super spies tracking down a McGuffin stupid enough that it probably wouldn’t find its way into an Austin Powers movie unless it was shaped like a penis. Jessica Chastain plays Mason Browne, a CIA agent who along with agent Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan) carry out a plan to get possession of the device only to have their plot foiled by rival German spy Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger). The crew is joined by Garcia Rivera (Penélope Cruz), the lovely Lupita Nyong’o as Khadijah Adiyeme, and Fan Bingbing as Li Mi Sheng. They need to track down the device because it’s a skeleton key that can hack into everything with the clicks of a keyboard. And yes, everything. As we find out in the beginning when the bad guys use it to remotely detonate a cargo plane.

The thing about female empowerment movies is that they tend to be complete shitass. And I’m not talking about movies with strong women. Take a look at my review list and among the top films you’ll find a lot of movies with strong female leads; Everything Everywhere All At Once is my top rated movie of 2022 and one of four films that I’ve given an A+ on this website to. Another being Jojo Rabbit thanks to the fantastic performance of Scarlett Johansson as the strong mom. Female empowerment movies are like the women equivalent of a dude boasting about the size of his dick or the people who describe themselves as humble. If you have to say it, it’s not true.

And The 355 is a film that asks the question “what if we made James Bond but a woman and not as competent?” And I’ve already seen that done, and so much better, in the form of No Time To Die. No Time To Die scared viewers before it released because they assumed Bond would be emasculated and eventually pass the torch to Lashana Lynch, which the film never did. Lashana Lynch is a strong female character who realistically has certain advantages and disadvantages over Bond due to age and experience respectively.

The big difference is that Lashana Lynch has personality and her appearance is supposed to start off as hostile and gradually become warmer. None of the main characters in The 355 have that same charm or personality. In fact they barely have personality at all. Watching four women simultaneously trying to be James Bond in the same film is just embarrassing. Especially Diane Kruger. The film also goes out of its way to do a whole “men suck” routine in which every male character in this movie is either dumb, weak, or corrupt. And that includes the entirety of the male-led every single intelligence agency these women work for.

Now I’m not saying that Simon Kinberg is secretly a misogynist but I’m guessing he has some thoughts about women that would get him cancelled in today’s Hollywood and has come up with a few scenarios where domestic abuse is deserved. Because a proper writer could have a field day with taking this Burger King Kid’s Club cast of ethnically diverse female stars (I’m willing to bet there was a lesbian character that got cut early on because Kinberg thinks they’re all butch and “basically men”) and turning them into badasses, but instead Kinberg decided to lower the bar of the entire world they inhabit. None of the women are particularly skilled agents, but the men are made dumber, the tech more simplified, the villains more careless, and even worse shots to compensate. Also they cry a lot, more than Daniel Craig.

The title of the film is a perfect example of the laziness and lack of thinking Kinberg and Rebeck put into the story, because The 355 is the name of an unknown female patriot during the revolutionary war. What does that have to do with this film? Absolute dick. But they bring it up with all the grace of Father Ted commending Ming the Merciless in his presentation on Chinese people to convince Craggy Island he’s not racist. Action scenes in this movie are awful and lack impact, and you can actually see very obviously the stunt doubles in a few spots the camera lingers too long on. The ending is also awful and antithetical to what you’d want out of a spy film.

The worst part about the whole thing is that it takes a star-studded cast of talented actresses and doesn’t utilize any of their natural charm. Except for Penelope Cruz who is as close as we’ll get to comedic relief and Lupita who feels like a real person. It lacks confidence in being something, a movie that wants to be a somewhat serious female empowerment flick that doesn’t treat its female stars seriously or with much empowerment. We get about three steps into the campy territory with perfume bottle bombs and camera-laced jewelry at a fancy Chinese auction (the crew literally Shanghai’s the McGuffin) but again we don’t get too far, probably because Kinberg thought humor might disrespect his vision.

Kinberg took a five star meal kit and somehow still made a Little Caesars pizza out of it. And at a little over two hours it is a big ass waste of time. Thankfully with Prime Video I didn’t pay directly for it, and I paid for VampFather. It’s really telling about the mindset of guys like Simon Kinberg who create films like this and then infantilize women under the guise of empowerment. Sure we’ll make a Bond film about female superspies, but we need five of them to do what a James Bond or Jason Bourne can handle on their own, and even as a team they don’t do as good of a job.

Rating: D-