Taking its title from the codename of America’s first female spy, who was recruited to gather intelligence for George Washington and has never been formally identified, The 355 forcibly corrects the gender imbalance of Hollywood’s splashy forays into globe-trotting espionage under the aegis of James Bond, Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne.

Writer-director Simon Kinberg assembles a starry lead cast including Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Penelope Cruz and Fan Bingbing to trade physical blows and barbs in spectacular locations around the globe in pursuit of a hi-tech gizmo that sets a tortuous plot in motion.

When a dying man stares into the eyes of one female agent and gasps “Trust no-one”, audiences should take note.

Kinberg and co-writer Theresa Rebeck saturate their script with double-crosses and deceptions in a high-stakes world of inter-agency rivalry, where fictional male heroes are ripe for ribbing (“James Bond never has to deal with real life!”) in between bullet-riddled action set-pieces.

Hand-to-hand combat and running gun battles accompanied by a propulsive Tom Holkenborg score are breathlessly choreographed and on-screen violence is unflinching, including one tense negotiation to bluntly hammer home the personal cost of playing the spy game.

Execution is consistently slick but Kinberg’s film lacks one innovative and thrilling sequence to elevate this tangled tale above its testosterone-heavy predecessors. The 355 falls short of being The 1.

A drugs bust south of Bogota fortuitously interrupts the sale of a portable hard drive capable of hacking every network on the planet including nuclear launch sites, power grids, financial markets and airplane operating systems.

Colombian operative Luis Rojas (Edgar Ramírez) pockets the hardware and offers the device for sale to international intelligence agencies.

Ballsy CIA agent Mace Brown (Chastain) and partner Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan) spearhead the American response while German lone wolf Marie Schmidt (Kruger) runs the rival BND operation.

The two teams collide in Paris and the hard drive falls into the wrong hands.

Mace goes rogue and recruits former MI6 asset and computer specialist Khadijah (Nyong’o) to join her covert cadre.

Khadijah persuades Mace to harness Marie’s expertise and soon after, Colombian psychologist Graciela (Cruz) becomes entangled in the daredevil enterprise.

The four heroines cross borders and are casually dismissed by one mercenary (Jason Flemyng) as “a harem of women in head scarves” following a botched handover in Marrakesh.

Meanwhile, an enigmatic Chinese figure (Bingbing) tracks the hard drive’s movements with an ulterior motive.

Calibrated as a franchise opening salvo, The 355 trades energetically in guns and gadgetry (jewellery embedded with spy cams) with respectful nods to Ocean’s 8 and Mission: Impossible.

Rebeck and Kinberg’s screenplay serves slivers of emotional meat for the lead cast to sink their teeth into before henchmen threaten to punch out those resplendent pearly whites in bruising fisticuffs.