‘The 355’ Features Lady Spies Fighting Off a Cyber-MacGuffin

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The 355 (CREDIT: Robert Viglasky/Universal Pictures)

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, Sebastian Stan, Edgar Ramirez

Director: Simon Kinberg

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Very Loud Guns and Some Torture

Release Date: January 7, 2022 (Theaters)

Like pretty much every other spycraft movie ever, The 355 left me reeling with bewilderment over my lack of understanding about what exactly was going on. About 20 minutes in, I wondered, “Did I miss something while looking down at my phone or taking a swig of water?” That’s pretty par for the course. What’s less par is the fact that this particular spy movie stars a quintet of ladies who have all garnered plenty of awards recognition over the course of their careers. The title, after all, is a reference to a code name used by a female agent during the American Revolution. But ultimately that feminine energy makes hardly any difference whatsoever.

The 355 (CREDIT: Universal Pictures)

Basically there’s some to-do about some MacGuffin that could apparently destroy the world if it winds up in the wrong hands. So a team of allies and former rivals from all around the world forms on the fly to ensure that this doesn’t happen. There’s also some business about Jessica Chastain’s CIA agent character being betrayed by her partner (Sebastian Stan). I couldn’t figure out what his motivation was. Ultimately I began to entertain the idea that perhaps these actors were just as oblivious as I was about the details of their characters’ mission. They never betrayed any doubt in their performances, but it’s kind of interesting to consider the amount of blindness that could potentially go into pulling off a plot this knotty. Also, Penélope Cruz’s character is a therapist, and it’s clear that she is not used to field work that’s this high-stakes. So I kind of wish the focus had been more on her.

There might be some readers of this review who are shouting at me, “What are you talking about?! This made perfect sense! I know exactly what happened!” But a comprehensible plot is only half the battle here. There also needs to be style and momentum. Alas, though, The 355 for the most part alternates between deafening gun shootouts and frequently whispered conversations. Oh well, that’s January cinema for ya. The nonsense has to go somewhere.

The 355 is Recommended If You Like: The promise of a “Dewey Decimal System for Cyberattacks”

Grade: 2 out of 5 Common Enemies

Movie Review: ‘Dark Phoenix’ Plays It Way Too Safe by Both X-Men and General Movie Standards

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Jessica Chastain, Tye Sheridan, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Scott Shepherd, Ato Essandoh

Director: Simon Kinberg

Running Time: 114 Minute

Rating: PG-13 for Getting Suddenly Violently Tossed About by Telekinesis

Release Date: June 7, 2019

I love the X-Men. They’re my favorite superhero team, and still, through it all, my favorite superhero movie franchise. They’ve delivered some dizzying cinematic heights but also some flicks that have driven me batty. So it pains me to say that Dark Phoenix did not make me feel much in the way of any strong emotions.

Some say that the X-Men series is burdened by tangled, contradictory continuity. I say it’s bolstered by it. Whereas other cinematic universes are careful to keep every little thread in line for the health of a sturdy timeline, the Merry Mutants traverse decades willy-nilly, tossing off whatever plotlines just aren’t working and cruising along with whatever’s exciting and vibrant, paradoxes be damned! Dark Phoenix doesn’t reject that approach, but it doesn’t embrace it either. It’s mostly content to tell a straightforward story, while occasionally throwing out some half-baked ideas. It’s a movie unstuck in time, instead of proudly giving the middle finger to any temporal concepts.

Dark Phoenix is clearly a labor of love. It’s the directorial debut of Simon Kinberg, who’s been with the franchise for over a decade, and it’s based on one of the most beloved comics storylines, in which telepathic telekinetic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) bonds with a super-hot cosmic force to become the most powerful creature on the planet, perhaps the whole universe. It’s a huge climactic big screen culmination that’s been promised to us for quite some time, but after seeing how it’s turned out, I mainly want to say: we would have been okay without this movie. Or maybe now just wasn’t the right time for it. It’s arriving hot on the heels of an X-Men movie whose title literally referred to the end of the world and another that said a fitting goodbye to a pair of iconic X-characters.

But it shouldn’t have been impossible for Dark Phoenix to be another rousing, revolutionary statement so soon after those conclusive paradigm changes. In fact, it would have totally been in keeping with this franchise’s always-moving-forward ethos. But that’s not going to happen when a climactic battle scene takes place in some random New York hotel or when Professor X and Magneto run through the same old rigamarole of bickering and then making a temporary peace. When the stakes are this high, you have to go for broke.

Dark Phoenix is Recommended If You Like: X-Men completism, if you gotta

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Firebirds