So, you heard ‘The 355’ is cliche but No Time to Die is original? Careful, your double standard is showing!
The 355 is an international spy thriller from director Simon Kinberg and brings together an all-star cast led by Jessica Chastain (Mace), Penelope Cruise (Graciela), Diane Kruger (Marie), Lupita Nyong’o (Khadija), Fan Bingbing (Lin Mi Shen) with Sebastian Stan thrown in for good measure. This was one of the pandemic movies delayed by a year and from the moment it was announced, I was routing for it in a big way.
Any opportunity to bring new types of action characters and adventure stories to the screen is always a plus to me as opposed to throwing more millions behind the likes of Transformers 25. Any film studio ready to take chances and promote new properties is a good thing so I was almost willing this film to be fantastic in the hope that encourages other studios to take similar chances in the future.
The 355 was one of January’s Most Wanted Movies. Find out what the others were here
Unfortunately, it was not amazing, it was just ok, middle of the road average. Actually, it was more than ok, it was good fun with some decent action sequences and solid performances from the cast. The thrills didn’t quite hit the highs of the best in the genre, due to the director not having the vision to elevate it. The plot was workable, but the story felt a bit patchy, and the twists were apparent quite early in the film.
It was an average but still decent ride with cool action set pieces and likable characters that gelled very well together. The friendship between Mace and Khadija felt genuine as did the initial harsh rivalry between agents Mace and the tougher than tough Marie (Diane Kruger). The film sizzled and sparked but never quite caught fire – it didn’t light up the screen.
So, what’s my issue, what’s the double standard I refer to in the title? Just 3 months ago, the ‘epitome’ of spy movies, No Time to Die aka Bond 25 came out after similar delays and opened to acclaim and high praise, referred to as ‘fresh, innovative, spectacular’ etc – you get the idea. Yet, some early reactions to ‘The 355’ have labeled it ‘tired’, ‘by the numbers spy adventure’ and ‘clichéd’.
Now those are valid opinions, I appreciate that but these same publications also labelled Bond as amazing. I can’t help feeling it’s a blatant double standard with a dash of blind brand loyalty. The character ‘Bond’ is an institution and for many years was the worldwide gold standard for spies in movies- whether the actual movie is good or not. ‘No Time to Die’ also had the emotional attachment, being Daniel Craig’s final outing. And let’s not forget the millions poured into production, the soundtrack and advertising to ensure you feel like you have seen something special when, what you have watched is considerably basic.
My dad had the ‘complete’ Bond set in 1988 on Betamax and even by that point, any real complexities of that character had already been fully explored. I have long held the opinion, (even as a child who grew up watching Bond and loved Bond), that Bond needs to end (I’ve written about it here). There are only so many times you can remix and dilute the same thing till there is no substance at all.
That’s why the argument about who should be the next Bond is mostly irrelevant to me because there shouldn’t be another. I understand the business model demands continued exploitation of a property if it remains profitable but the phrase flogging a dead horse comes to mind. No series, no TV show (I’m looking at you Greys Anatomy) and no movie should have 25 sequels- there are only so many decent stories you can tell even with the best characters before they become caricatures and the stories get ridiculous.
Bond has become the British ‘Fast and Furious’. Immensely popular, loads of money for ever more spectacular stunts, lots of money for flashy advertising and promotion, beautiful locations and ever more over the top unnecessarily complex storylines.
A publication called ‘The 355’s’ plot ‘forgettable’. So, let’s look at that plot. A cybernetic device is designed by a drug Carter that can hack any electronic device on the planet. Every government wants the device to control that power. The ladies of the 355 try to retrieve it for their individual country agencies. Not a groundbreaking story but simple enough? Now, look at the person on your left or right and ask them what the plot of ‘No Time to Die’ was? If they are honest, they don’t know. What exactly was the point or the story about?
‘The 355’ was described by some as cliche and generic. Unfortunately, that’s a common thread in spy movies. We have seen so many of them, many of the same tropes (started by Bond movies) understandably get re used. That doesn’t mean those tropes didn’t work here so why the special penalty and extra criticism? And if we want to pick on clichés, ‘No time to die’ has a villain with a bad eye Bond named ‘cyclops’, which continues the long proud tradition of Bond villains with some physical quirk or abnormality, ‘Jaws’ with his metal teeth being the most well-known.
And what about the villains. Yes, ‘The 355’ presents us with the type of drug cartels, corrupt agencies, and rogue government officials we have seen a hundred times before but is that really less credible that another Bond villain with a scarred face trying to blow up/take over the world? They have literally done that same villain story for 25 films, and it’s still applauded?
‘The 355’ presents agents who aren’t super spies, just experts in their particular fields. They are closer to real people who run and get tired, get hurt, lose people, are unsure of themselves, have real lives & loves, family, and normal baggage we all have. The attempt here is to present rounded real characters whose actions have consequences and often must deal with those pains while still doing their high-pressure job.
As much as they might try (and no matter which actor is playing him), Bond is a one-dimensional spy caricature from the cold War era. Trying to update or modernise him not only damages the legacy but also starts to make the character unrecognisable, as they did when the identity crisis started, and they began trying to mimic Bourne.
Despite all I’ve said, ‘The 355’ isn’t the evolution of the spy genre I was hoping for. It has problems of its own which I think it could be ironed out either in sequels or even another new film property. Yet it still manages to be effortlessly modern, current, and progressive without feeling forced. Giving the chance to develop (and possibly in the hands of more ambitious director), films like this could be the movie hits we celebrate in years for now.
Just don’t dismiss them completely while heaping praise on the likes of Bond for doing exactly the same things. All that does is confirm to the studios that the world of endless sequels and remakes is the only thing we are willing to support, and we’ll remain in this cycle of repetition.
The 355 is showing now in cinemas, go and check it out for yourself , I’ll like to know what you think.