Review: Argylle

Argylle Poster

It is so flashy but ultimately tiring.

An author becomes hugely popular with a series of spy novels. But when a real spy organization is threatened by the alarming comparisons to their real-life operations… she is about to go on a globe-trotting adventure of her own.

Director Matthew Vaughn exploded onto the scene with Layer Cake in 2004, and has continued with blasé abandon with X-Men: First Class and the the Kingsman series. Vaughn is one of our new action movie directors, who has a very distinct style of his own. A style that… might be getting tiresome.
Argylle has a star-studded cast: Henry Cavill, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, and of course Samuel L. Jackson. It is a colourful, nonstop, twist-infused action movie.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Elly Conway, an extremely successful spy novelist who is onto the fifth book in her “Argylle” series, apparently quite trashy James Bond-esque spy capers that hook the reader from beginning to end. She is doted on by her mother, and praised by her fans as being akin to Ian Fleming. All of this writing success is thanks to research, she says, in a rather compelling speech early in the movie.
But when her next book’s ending (a cliffhanger) gets her mother’s criticism, she has to travel to visit her. Out of the convenes of her home, she is suddenly accosted by a man claiming to be a real spy. This man, Aidan (played by Sam Rockwell) insists that the evil spy agency in her book is real, and they are after her for what she writes. Is any of this true? Is there more going on? Is there a cat involved?

Dallas Bryce Howard and Sam Rockwell
I like cats. But… that freaking CG cat…

It sometimes feels like Vaughn is constantly chasing the high that was the church fight scene in Kingsman: The Secret Service. A high octane fight with small CG enhancement to embolden camera work and allow for ridiculous, impossible fluidity, combined with unconventional actors in action roles. One of the first things audiences will baulk at within Argylle, is its use of CGI. It is abundant and very obvious, even when it shouldn’t be.
The action scenes are nonstop, with Rockwell’s Aidan pulling Howard’s character through increasingly dangerous scenarios as a spy adventure evolves around them. Eventually, it all becomes quite overwhelming, and what is actually at stake gets muddled and lost.

The central premise: “a spy novelist is hunted by real spy masters because she is uncovering their secrets”, is quite compelling. Indeed, the early sequences of this film are interesting if a little overlong and bloated. Henry Cavill as a larger-than-life fictional character living in the author’s head, visually taking over Aidan during the fight scenes, is charming and quite novel (pun intended.) But as the movie goes on, this premise becomes more lost in a spaghetti of twists and turns. Several rug-pulls later and the audience has ceased to care because… when is the next subversion coming that undoes everything all over again?

The film has good talent behind it. Bryce Dallas Howard is great as an innocent, nerdy author, Sam Rockwell is always good, and Bryan Cranston stalking around as the main antagonist is delightful. But the film is not as clever as it thinks it is.

Henry Cavill is here too
The film peaked early.

It is what could be called “a trailer movie”, it has disparate parts that look really cool in a trailer, but the whole is not greater than the sum of these parts, as it turns out. The film’s intent is to shock with revelations, to unbalance in the ways that clever spy films tend to do. But those clever spy films (even the not very good or authentic ones) have one principle twist, maybe two. Argylle has comparatively a dozen twists, and eleven of them are predictable.
It is to the point that the writing doesn’t seem confident in what the screenplay wants. When the “big villain threatens something precious as a means to get the hero to do something”, when the hero has already agreed to do that thing five seconds earlier. What happened there?? That scene was written backwards.

(and that was the least-spoilery way to write that)

Overall, if you are looking for a fluffy, meaningless time that has lots of bells and whistles on it, Argylle might be your bag. If you are here for a remotely cerebral time (or to see Henry Cavill as a James Bond spy) maybe avoid it as best you can. Under scrutiny the movie collapses when the audience starts to ask questions of it.

2.5 stars out of 5

Additional Marshmallows: Is this connected to Kingsmen? Because… Samuel L. Jackson was already in that franchise, so that’s a problem if true!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *