Matthew Vaughn’s “Argylle” starts as a fun, highly kinetic spy action throwback that pokes fun at the writing process but devolves into a messy, predictable, and primarily toothless effort.
“Argylle” follows Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), a reclusive author of a series of highly successful spy novels of the same name. The novelist doesn’t have much of a life outside of her writing or caring for her cat, Alfie. When she gets stuck on ending her fifth book, Ruth (Catherine O’Hara), Elly’s mother, suggests that she come to their childhood home to brainstorm on an ending that doesn’t appear to be a cheap cliffhanger.
Elly agrees and decides to take the train since she has a fear of flying. As she tries to keep the row of seats to herself from other passengers, Aiden (Sam Rockwell) takes one and is overcome with joy when he realizes he is sitting in front of the author of his favorite books. But this is no chance encounter as he saves Elly and reveals to her that the imaginative fiction that she has written mirrors the covert actions of a real-life spy organization. So Aiden and Elly go on a globetrotting adventure where they have to stay one step ahead of assassins and killers while uncovering the truth about the real agent Argylle and taking down the evil spy syndicate.
Director Matthew Vaughn returns to the spy genre that is as fun and original as it is fast-paced and highly kinetic while also being unafraid to poke fun at itself. Such a combination makes for something very entertaining, as the wild action and meta-humor make it easy to laugh at jokes and some of the silly fight choreography in the over-the-top action sequences. The director uses Elly’s prophetic writing and struggles to write the next chapter to comment on the writing process. And he does this with a sense of style as the words Elly types come alive. The film’s opening sequence sees her read one of the chapters of her book to her loyal fans. What starts as simple words of a cheesy yet successful series of spy novels literally leaps off the page and becomes a vivid music video complete with lights and a sexy dance choreography between the devilishly charming Argylle (Henry Cavill), and a dangerous spy LaGrange (Dua Lipa). Of course, when Elly reads this book aloud, we see its twists unfold in cinematic ways. A wild chance ensues, and relaxed and calm Wyatt (John Cena), Argylle’s partner, can assist in LaGrange’s capture. So, while the book ends and fans wonder when the next one will be released, Elly is left to figure out how to continue the next series with a new book.
As such, we are presented with the hook, which depends on everyone trying to get Elly to write the book’s final chapters before it’s too late. And it’s fun to watch Aiden or Ritter (Bryan Cranston) try to pull the words out of Elly, who is clearly in over her head and wants to go back home with her cat – who happens to get the two into more trouble than they need to be. And since this spy comedy is a play on the genre and the writing process, the film relies on cliches to provide the laughs, plot twists to help the film move forward, and highly kinetic action sequences to keep things light and fun.
So, like any espionage film, plenty of twists and double-crosses will keep the audiences guessing. On top of that, with Elly’s anxiety constantly kicking in, she begins to question her reality. As such, the lines between reality and her imagination are blurred. The concept is fun and fully engages us with what’s going on as we are left wondering who we can trust and if Elly’s experience is real. The film’s tagline is: “The greater the spy, the greater the lie.” So the film contains quite a few spies who can’t be trusted, plus an author of these great spy novels who can’t tell if what she sees is Aiden trying to protect her or just her imagination coming to life. Every time she blinks, she sees Aiden disarming an assassin, and the other times she blinks, she sees Argylle with that devilishly handsome look and charming smile brush off attacks as if it were nothing. At one point, she speaks to her own reflection, with Argylle looking back at her, trying to give her the advice she needs to keep moving forward. As the film gets closer to answering those questions, it finds new and annoying ways to overextend itself to deliver another joke about the spy genre or have another action sequence.
“Argylle” lacks self-control when it comes to delivering these twists for the sake of being a play on the spy genre and a hilarious commentary on the writer’s process. The twists are unrelenting, and they come in so many waves that the film buckles under their weight. As such, it becomes less exciting and more predictable because you’re expecting another twist. On top of that, the film would have benefitted from a shorter runtime.
The poorly delivered twists and reveals seem like an excuse to get to the following colorful and vibrant action sequence – many of which still have Vaughn’s signature style and fun. Still, because it’s made more accessible for audiences of all ages, it lacks bite. The violence is softer and ends up making these assassins and killers look like they are playing pretend. Some of these work because of the surrounding environment. At times, the action seems grounded as we see Aiden fight within the confines of a train car or him leaping out from under apartment floorboards and using the spin and shoot to kill assassins. But as soon as it moves away from all of that, it gets over the top, especially when the action takes us aboard an oil tanker where colorful smoke bombs take the shape of a heart or Elly “ice skates” on giant puddles of oil. It’s silly, and some of it is so lengthy and over-the-top that it’s not as fun as when it first started.
“Argylle” starts out as fun and spy games, but it loses itself with the overabundance of twists and unnecessary additions of flashy action sequences. Vaugh’s signature is all over the place with the over-the-top action sequences that are colorful and vibrant and witty humor that is the perfect juxtaposition for thrilling intense spy flicks. And while its approach to the genre is refreshingly original, it needs to have the awareness to know when enough is enough and ends up making a mess by giving us more than we need.
In theaters February 2, 2024.