Argylle is an overly convoluted attempt at making a spy-comedy that bogs itself down with an overwhelming number of twists and an underwhelming final payoff. After seeing an ungodly number of ads for this film in the months leading up to it, I found myself unable to escape their marketing tactics and often felt like they were giving away most of the film in the overstuffed trailers. The promise of a new Henry Cavill film certainly piqued my interest and I’m always a fan of what Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell are up to, but Matthew Vaughn is a filmmaker I’m still not totally sold on in terms of his bankability. He boasts a ton of impressive action in his films and they’re often quite funny, but I find that he struggles to keep everything together for a nice finale in his movies and that’s unfortunately exactly how I felt after watching Argylle.
Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a best-selling author known for her fictious spy series centered around the handsome and capable Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill). On the verge of releasing her latest sequel in the Argylle series, Elly encounters Aidan Wilde (Sam Rockwell) on a train and he saves her life as secret agents attempt to kidnap her. Apparently, everything she’s written in her manuscripts has proved to come true and Elly finds herself hunted by Director Ritter (Bryan Cranston) who runs an elusive crime syndicate. The real question is, who’s the actual Agent Argylle?
As a victim of movie trailer expectations, I do find myself trying to go into most films without more than a basic knowledge of the story and in the case of Argylle I went in having seen too much. My belief that Henry Cavill and Dua Lipa might play a decent role in the film was cut short early in the film and while that’s completely fine, it made me feel concerned for what was to follow because it felt like I’d already seen most of the fascinating bits (and the most tantalizing). While there were some globe-trotting adventures that take place, everything after the opening sequence oddly feels less exciting than the fictional sequences. Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell work great with one another and find a genuine connection with their witty banter that ends up helping salvage the ending. There’s also that cat in the movie who’s just an empty prop and is used for some slight gags here and there. I felt like they really struggled to strike their balance of comedy and espionage, too often relying on silliness and undercutting what could be awesome sequences.
Matthew Vaughn’s visual language has evolved incredibly well since his debut with Layer Cake, dipping his toes into the world of comic books with Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and the Kingsmen movies. The kinetic movement in his action/shootout scenes is always wildly enjoyable to watch and there are plenty of moments in Argylle where it seems like they were teetering on that Rated-R line, especially as it pertains to how most people are killed in the movie. Much like the church scene in the first Kingsmen, it’s clear that there are headshots galore in Argylle but they all get edited into body shots and it ends up looking super bizarre in some sequences. There’s also an abundant use of color and smoke at one point towards the end of the film that felt reminiscent of other genre films trying to showcase a beautiful array of color and just how stylish they can make the scene look. Maybe that stuff works for some, but for me it just felt unnecessary like a lot of “style points” moments that are littered throughout the film.
Argylle is the result of what happens when you try to stuff too many ideas and characters into a story that would’ve been far better served with fewer of them involved. We’re constantly introduced to characters who only serve to provide surface-level information before they’re either dispatched or stuffed to the side. The back and forth between a real spy and novel spy is entertaining at first, however after more than an hour you start to hope that they’ll either completely bring Cavill into the fold or shift the focus entirely onto Rockwell’s spy. Unfortunately, all the star power in the world couldn’t save Argylle from being too scattered to be completely enjoyable and the post-credit tie-in to the larger Vaughn cinematic universe just felt completely unnecessary. You might laugh here and there and there’s certainly some spectacle to enjoy, but overall, it just falls flat.
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