Argylle Review

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When the trailers for Argylle boast of a movie “from the twisted mind of Matthew Vaughn,” there’s something they’re not telling you (besides its actual twists), despite the advertising, this is Vaughn’s sweetest-natured film in years. (Maybe that is the twist.) That does not mean however that his latest semi-comic thriller lacks onscreen violence or has a low body count. Quite the opposite. Scores or even hundreds of anonymous characters die violently. However, considering that Vaughn has spent the last decade exploring Kingsman’s cheeky and sometimes edge-lordy universe where Bryce Dallas Howard plays a mild-mannered author of spy novels who gets drawn into a real-world espionage plot by any number of kill shots or fatal stabbings, this movie about Bryce Dallas Howard playing a mild-mannered author of spy novels being unwittingly recruited into an actual terrorist conspiracy has an advantage in soft charm.

Sadly, Vaughn eventually blows his huge lead as he riffed on James Bond-like super-spy movies but without the budgetary values or wit associated with them. This makes it hard to believe how successful novelist Elly Conway (Howard) is after publishing her fourth best-selling novel about Bond-ish Agent Argylle (who looks like Henry Cavill with a triangular brush-cut). On a train journey, Aidan (Sam Rockwell) stops her and claims he is an actual spy who wants to know what she had planned for her next eerily predictive text and to keep off some bad guys also wanting to do the same thing.

This catch vaguely resembles Romancing the Stone before getting a little more trippy: As Aiden fights in Kingsman-esque hand-to-hand plus guns combat inside a train car Elly keeps seeing flickers of her fictional hero while flashing between Cavill and Rockwell pulling off identical slick moves simultaneously. Has she brought up her creation? Does she control the world? Or is there anything else happening behind the scenes? It’s an idea that could be an interesting concept for a Michel Gondry film possibly delving into how we think about things, either positively or negatively.

Regrettably, Vaughn has no such ambitions in mind even when he loads on the twists, fake-outs, and characters—well, “characters” might be generous but certainly big-name actors like Bryan Cranston Catherine O’Hara Ariana DeBose John Cena Dua Lipa, and Samuel L. Jackson who by now is firmly in his sitting-and-performing period. As Elly and Aidan leap from one green screen to another, it starts feeling boring: Aidan insists on some crazy dangerous stunt for Elly to try out; Elly refuses; Aidan demands again; then the CGI sets in for a few minutes of impossible weightless action.

Why do Elly’s books describe fantasy actions that closely resemble real-world spy shenanigans, but why must they appear so similar due to such visual trash? Sometimes, especially towards its end stretch though, Vaughn pushes cartoonishness until it becomes kind of epic craziness like the Baz Luhrmann-infused Kingsman sequel. Mostly however it just suffers from clunky editing (between Cavill and Rockwell transitions here are particularly heavy-handed where they should be light and playful) as well as loose plotting that drops characters into new fake-looking locations without much drive. While trying to build up scares within this narrative suspense starts leaking out right at its climax point.

The creators didn’t intend for the funny spy picture to evoke white-knuckle suspense, and it’s worth noting that Argylle almost wholly fails even as a charm machine. Howard and Rockwell are an attractive couple, joined together by a willingness to embrace the strange that the movie attempts to throw at them – while Vaughn has the good sense to let Rockwell dance over and over again. However, Jason Fuchs’ script does not furnish either star with one good line. It seems like a too-long first draft with no darlings to kill. Anyway, I also know other films like these two from Vaughn and Fuchs but then I cannot mention them since doing so would ruin some of their serviceable plot twists.

Argylle’s strangest aspect may be how it still feels like a film made out of passion for Vaughn despite being derivative throughout its elongated spy adventure. It premieres in theaters before going to Apple TV+, giving off that streamer carte-blanche energy when it is excitedly building up a new world only for us to see some baffling sequels coming up mid-credits scene. However, Argylle appears shockingly dull (all colors except gold look muted) and rough around the edges, despite its expensive indulgence, the passion emanates solely from its creation. Rather than carrying on with heart-eyed emojis as Wild Ride should have done, what happened here was the opposite as it shrugged and increased body count.


Matthew Vaughn’s latest directorial effort doesn’t traffic in the same edge-lord button-pushing as his Kingsman series. But once that relief fades away, Argylle can be seen for what it is, rehashing ideas and images from them (and other much better movies). Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell make an adorable couple. But an occasional screwball misadventure, too clumsy to match the people who played it

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