After X-Men: Dark PhoenixSimon Kinberg and Jessica Chastain have returned with 355a female action-spy thriller that crashed at the box office.
In 2017, so that the funeral of the saga was turning X-Men with dark phoenix, Jessica Chastain (who played the evil alien Vuk in the film) had the unfortunate idea of going to see director Simon Kinberg to ask him to direct a film out of the meanders of her subconscious as an actress-producer: an action thriller type james bond and Impossible mission, but 100% feminine and as a team. I’avengers ofAtomic Blonde.
Inside Kinberg’s head, X-Men was already buried and 355 was going to pay his bills for the times to come. The film then took on a large female cast, in the presence of Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o (Oscar winner for 12 Years a Slave and known to the general public for Black Panther), by Diane Kruger (Inglorious Bastards) and Bingbing Fan (cell phone). Together, they were supposed to bring about a small revolution in female action cinema, but it was rather a big miss at the global box office. And for that, a little behind-the-scenes look is in order.
One factor that is already essential to understand in order to capture the essence of the project is Jessica Chastain herself. In 2016, the actress founded her production studio Freckle Films with a view to becoming, like Margot Robbie or Scarlett Johansson (among others), an artistic director of his films. It led us to the joys like Ava, who already offered to see the actress as an assassin John Wickien (and it was a turnip). The film was simply slammed by critics.
355 was therefore not just a trial, but a second chance (who said “last stand”?). With the gravedigger of the X-Men, Chastain shielded his presentation file for the project, to sell it during the 2018 Cannes Film Festival film market. Several studios seemed interested, but it was Universal Pictures who obtained the distribution rights. film for the modest sum of 20 million dollars. The most expensive project of this edition of the festival, just that.
Straight into the wall, but with enthusiasm
By the way, Chastain repeated to anyone willing to listen that she intended to revolutionize the image of women in blockbusters. In June 2019, just before filming, The Hollywood Reporter relayed an Instagram message from the actress, explaining the production of 355 :
“While Simon Kinberg and I were making Dark Phoenix, I offered him this action film with a female team. He accepted, and so I called the actresses I wanted. We all made the film our own, it is kind of for everyone. And now we’re shooting it. I like the idea of making a movie where all of its actresses are not just performers, but also creators.”
Even if the sole motivation for “female team action film” is not very artistic, balanced as it is, we could at least commend the good intention behind it. Nevertheless, the casting phases will be adorned with some obstacles not stung by beetles. Already, in 2018, the famous Marion Cotillard was assigned to one of the roles of the film crewbefore we learned in 2019 that it was no longer “for personal reasons“. Real excuse or presentiment of cinematographic turd? We will probably never know, for lack of detail.
Dark Knight fans relieved
Ultimately, the role of Cotillard will be redistributed to Diane Kruger, without knowing if all this affected anything in the writing of the film (since it clearly seemed to adapt more to the profile of the stars than to lead them to make an effort of transformation). Nevertheless, the character of Marie being German in the script, there is no doubt that it has been slightly reworked.
Second problem cast: Bingbing Fan, whose arrival in production caused a stir. Wanted by the Chinese authorities for tax evasion, the Asian actress was subject to many local controversies including Huayi Brothers, a Chinese studio co-producing 355was well aware.
Despite an amicable settlement between the actress and the Chinese state, Huayi officially announced her withdrawal from the production in April 2019, according to a report by variety, and part of the funding for the film was no longer guaranteed. We sensed a hassle behind the scenes, but in the end, without knowing how, the film still managed to find the lost biffetons, to reach the end of its shooting and its post-production. All this to say that the delusions of Jessica Chastain, it is expensive in adventures (at least, it sticks to the theme of the film).
Monthly business meeting of 355
355 spectators worldwide
Despite these setbacks, the film stuck to its ambitions. The rest of the cast, with Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o and Diane Kruger, had enough to raise – as much as possible – the rating of this blockbuster, whose budget amounts to 75 million dollars (excluding promo) . For a film which is not not an identified franchise, worn by any star with a Dwayne Johnsonesque aura and which is almost entirely female, It’s not nothing. It’s even a joke, to tell the truth.
The film was originally scheduled for January 2021, but, due to the lack of open theaters with the Covid-19 pandemic, the release has been postponed to January 7, 2022 (January 5, 2022 in France). A very correct operating window insofar as there is almost no competition: Spider-Man: No Way Home made the bulk of its turnover and Morbiusscheduled for January 26-28, has been postponed to the end of March-beginning of April 2022. The way was therefore clear for a small breakthrough… which will never come.
Success can wait
Partly because his promotion was more than shy, not to say transparent, 355 collected in a month and a half of worldwide exploitation 28.5 million dollars. No jealousy, the domestic and international box office are half and half, and the film only grabs 227,000 admissions in France. It’s a catastrophe. Or rather, it is in general indifference that the film slips into theaters.
We would be tempted to jump on the excuse of the moment, namely the pandemic and its share of health restrictions, but too many counter-examples in 2021 have proven that there is room for a breakthrough at the box office. Obviously, 355 was not going to have the force of attraction No Way Homeof Dying can wait or of Fast & Furious 9, but the film has a return far too low, compared to its investment. What sinned?
So certainly, the post-pandemic slowdown, inherent in all film productions, is not trivial. But beyond that? Weak promotion? Certainly, and maybe it was limited because of the already substantial development budget (75 million, anyway). A secret tile behind the scenes? Not that we know. The film was quietly shot during the summer of 2019 and had reshoots during the summer of 2020, during the first deconfinements, but nothing unusual for a blockbuster of its kind.
A lukewarm word of mouth at the exit? Admittedly (25% review-press on Rotten Tomatoes and 40/100 on Metacritic; 86% review-viewers on RT, 4/10 on Metacritic), even if that does not make all the exploitation of a film (otherwise , both Venom would be far from successful). By elimination, one could simply deduce thatthis is a basic problem: 355 is a project that has surely been overratedwhich may have been invested too much money in view of the potential (especially with the post-pandemic slowdown).
Heels make her slip
And with everything the production went through to come to an end, there are hints of ego from Jessica Chastain, absolutely keen on her breakthrough in the industry of a feminine (and feminist) cinema, even if it means involuntarily causing her film to sink. An overpriced and poorly evaluated whim, which leaves something to be desired for the future of the actress-producer and of Freckle Films. The female blockbuster is still in its infancy and the production has cleverly tripped over the carpet. Twice. Fortunately, all is not black.
Despite these two failed blockbusters, which suggest that Chastain does not win by forcing on this grounda little more radiant prospects are emerging with his third co-production Freckle: In the eyes of Tammy Faye. Biopic on Tammy Faye, American evangelist who will lose her luster in the 1990s, we have a possible nugget there.
“And suddenly, there is still room for the cast of Captain America 4?”
Less nag, less industrial, less calibrated, the film allowed the actress to reconnect with her hours of glory in the United States since she obtained her third Oscar nomination there (after her performances in The colour of feelings and Zero Dark Thirty) in the Best Actress category. And it has every chance of winning despite fierce and quality competition. To get an idea of his performance far from the galleys of 355, this new chapter of his career will be released on March 23, 2022 on VOD in France.