Argylle review | Matthew Vaughn’s spy film is sometimes dumb fun, mostly just dumb

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Bryce Dallas Howard’s novelist is taken on an unbelievable adventure after her spy novels start imitating real life. Here’s our Argylle review. 

Matthew Vaughn’s latest action comedy follows Bryce Dallas Howard’s Elly Conway, a writer who found success with her Argylle novels. Her five books detail the titular Agent Argylle’s search for a very important master file and the book’s scenes come to life on screen with Henry Cavill playing the dashing Agent Argylle. 

But – plot! – when Elly’s books start to mimic real life a bit too closely, Sam Rockwell’s slightly less-dashing agent comes to the rescue and sweeps Elly and her cat Alfie on a globe-trotting adventure that keeps getting more and more ridiculous.

From the off, there is a boldness to Vaughn’s film. A boldness to be silly, unserious and most importantly, dumb. Argylle, more than anything, is peculiarly, endearingly stupid, in good and bad ways. That said, the biggest mistake Vaughn and screenwriter Jason Fuchs make is to assume their audience isn’t able to figure out the twists and turns of the story, approximately 35 minutes before they happen. 

argylle trailer
Credit: Universal Pictures

Argylle seems to want to be a film that is able to pull the rug from under you several times during its bloated, unnecessary 139 minute runtime. None of the surprises feel that surprising; Vaughn handles them all with a heavy hand and too many visual clues. Argylle is the cinematic equivalent of being hit in the head with a hammer. Then someone checking you’re okay. Then hitting you again. 

Thankfully, Vaughn’s cast is very much in on the joke. Sam Rockwell is great fun as Aidan, the spy who swoops in to save Elly as a bunch of bad guys try to kill her on a train. Bryan Cranston is always dead good as a villain and Henry Cavill, a very underrated comedic actor, proves that he would have made an excellent James Bond. 

Yet, Argylle is, supposedly, Elly’s story. Unfortunately though, Howard isn’t awarded much to do or to work with. While some of it is by design, Elly is such a blank canvas of a character that it’s near impossible to be attached to her. All of the film’s female characters (there’s five in total) either have only a couple of minutes of screentime or are reduced to damsels in distress. 

Howard is a sympathetic lead, but the problem lies to my eyes within the script. Argylle is largely marketed as a Henry Cavill vehicle, even though the Man Of Steel actor plays a supporting character. Yet this is very much Elly’s story of finding her own courage and breaking free from her timid, anxious personality and embracing her role in this massive espionage conspiracy. 

Argylle has an awful lot of plot, but very little story. The universe never feels properly lived in and the characters lack a lot of history. Argylle is much like Christopher Nolan’s Tenet; both films were forced to constantly explain what was happening to the audience, because there was more plot than the respective directors knew what to do with. 

Like Tenet represented Christopher Nolan at both his worst and his most ambitious, Argylle is a bit of an enigma for Vaughn. The film, directed with maximalism by Vaughn, includes some of his worst instincts as well as his best. Argylle has a frustratingly formulaic plot and thin characters, but there’s also excellent fight choreography and a riotously fun dream ballet of violence. Argylle, clearly designed for the sanitised masses, also suffers greatly from the lack of gore; in fact, it’s a completely bloodless, and thus toothless, affair. 

There’s a great film somewhere in Argylle, but on this occasion, Vaughn hasn’t been able to draw it out. It’s a chaotic thrill ride, with truly terrible CGI, that gets exceedingly dumb as our patience wears thin. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time.

Also, there’s a cat.  

Argylle is in cinemas 1st February

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