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Argylle Review

February 2, 2024 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
ARGYLLE Image Credit: Peter Mountain/Universal, Apple Original Films, MARV
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Argylle Review  

Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Written By: Jason Fuchs
Runtime: 139 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG-13 for strong violence and action and some strong language.

Bryce Dallas Howard – Elly Conway
Sam Rockwell – Aidan
Henry Cavill – Argylle
Bryan Cranston – Ritter
Catherine O’Hara – Ruth
John Cena – Wyatt
Dua Lipa – LaGrange
Samuel L. Jackson – Alfred Solomon
Ariana DeBose – Keira
Sofia Boutella – Saba Al-Badr
Richard E. Grant – Fowler
Chip – Alfie

Looking back at all the marketing materials for Argylle, the very concept of the movie is a bait and switch. Rewind back to July 2021, when Apple Films first announced the movie. The project was described as a novel that follows the exploits of a globe-trotting super-spy named Argylle from a book written by Ellie Conway. At the time, director Matthew Vaughn claimed that this movie was going to “reinvent the spy genre.” Well, Argylle fails to do that on every level. Additionally, Argylle fails to exist as a halfway-decent movie.

In dissecting that original story, the whole concept of Argylle as a movie and franchise is built around the “author” Elly Conway, who is a character in the film. The real author behind the book(s) written for the film remains anonymous. In the world of the motion picture, writer Elly Conway, portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard in the film, is a world-renowned author famous for writing a spy novel series based around its eponymous hero, Agent Argylle (Cavill). Agent Argylle is a character in a world within the world of the actual film. Elly Conway is a fictional concoction, probably built as part of a transmedia campaign to enable Argylle to break into multiple markets. An actual Argylle novel about the character referenced in the film has been published. It’s similar to literal books published by the fictional author Richard Castle from the ABC television series Castle.

The film opens with Conway touring her latest spy novel in the Argylle series, followed by an imaginary prologue depicting Henry Cavill as a 007-wannabe looking utterly ridiculous with a flat-top, Arnold Schwarzenegger haircut. Together with his trusted partner, Wyatt (Cena), they apprehend the “terrorist” LaGrange (Dua Lipa), but they discover that their organization has gone rogue. Conway is a celebrated, successful writer for her books, and she’s already hard at work on her next installment. But as she’s taking a road trip via train home to visit her mother, Ruth (O’Hara), to rework the final act, she meets a scruffy passenger, Aidan (Rockwell), who turns out to be a master spy. Rescuing Conway from a group of vicious, unruly thugs disguised as train riders, the duo makes an epic escape.

It turns out that the fiction of Conway’s novels becomes real, and there is a rogue spy network out there with bad intentions. Aidan seeks Elly’s help to expose The Directorate and its megalomaniacal leader, Ritter (Cranston). Unfortunately Elly, struggles as the fiction of the world she created starts blending with reality in more ways than one.

From the top down, Argylle has an impressive cast, but Fuchs’ script is a badly cliched, hackneyed mess. Vaughn fails to use his actors to the best of their exceptional talents. The script is full of twists and turns, but all the major plot twists are poorly executed and thought out. None of them make any sense. The portrayal of Cranston as an unhinged villain and the head of a rogue spy network should be fun. Instead, Vaughn depicts Cranston as a two-dimensional, uninteresting character bordering on self-parody. Sam Rockwell valiantly tries to elevate the material with his unique charisma and dry delivery, but his character must deliver copious amounts of banal exposition. The most unfortunate aspect is that Rockwell and Howard share next to no chemistry as the film’s designated pairing. Both Howard and Rockwell are great actors, and the movie significantly hinges on their two character arcs. However, they can’t ignite the screen with what should be a compelling, whirlwind romance.

Creating a story where an author becomes embroiled in a real-life crisis is not exactly a novel concept. Argylle fails to do anything new or different from that concept, other than a parade of nonsensical plot twists that add little actual intrigue. Not to mention, most of the plot twists play as ideas cut and pasted from more recent works.

What’s worse about Argylle, despite a reported budget of $200 million, is that its look and visual style reek of cheapness. Every major action and set piece looks heavily layered under bad CGI and digital trickery, not the least of which are multiple stunts involving Alfie the Cat, portrayed partially by Vaughn’s real-life pet feline, Chip. Alfie becomes an active player in the plot and action, which means significant amounts of execrable computer-generated feline imagery. Vaughn has always had a penchant for going over the top with his action scenes, and he does so again here. The problem is that the two crazy, synthetic action sequences that happen late in the film only add to its flaws. The action scenes could’ve been salvaged had they looked more authentic, but they crush the immersion of the film’s hyper-realized world.

Combined with the fictionalized concept behind the premise, the movie heavily pushes the “new” song by The Beatles, “Now and Then,” and Vaughn extensively and shoddily rehashes his previous work. Argylle symbolically encompasses what a movie built by AI and algorithms probably looks like, a synthetic, hodge-podge mess with zero charm or inner life. However, the most infuriating aspect of Argylle is the ending sequence followed by a head-scratching mid-credit scene. If the film’s goal was to push forth a new franchise or shared universe, it’s one of the worst executed attempts in recent memory.

With a runtime of about two hours and twenty minutes, Argylle is little more than a synthetic, bloated mess. To steal a quote from Henry Cavill, “It’s like ordering a pie and finding it has no filling.”

The final score: review Bad
The 411
Argylle is another unfortunate misfire for filmmaker Matthew Vaughn. The spy thriller lacks the creative ingenuity and witty, post-modern edge of his superior work. A talented cast fails to uplift Jason Fuchs' clunky script, and Vaughn fails to streamline the story into something workable and more compelling. The action looks awful, and the plot and dialogue feel synthetic. The movie ends on an infuriating head-scratching moment that makes little sense as Vaughn looks to set up another shared universe he doesn't appear to have any time or interest in properly developing.