Running Time: 139 mins
UK Distributor: Universal Pictures
UK Release Date: 1 February 2024
WHO’S IN ARGYLLE?
Henry Cavill, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose, John Cena, Samuel L. Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Rob Delaney, Jing Lusi
WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?
Matthew Vaughn (director, producer), Jason Fuchs (writer, producer), Adam Bohling and David Reid (producers), Lorne Balfe (composer), George Richmond (cinematographer), Tom Harrison-Read and Lee Smith (editors)
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A spy novelist (Howard) finds herself in a real-life espionage scenario…
WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON ARGYLLE?
Shrouded in secrecy since it was first announced, only that it was based on a yet-to-be-published book by an unknown author named Elly Conway, and that it would have an ensemble cast to die for, director Matthew Vaughn’s spy caper Argylle would, rather ironically, make for a pretty good spy in real life. After all, much like an actual secret agent, it plays its cards so close to the chest that they’re practically stitched onto the skin, only playing its hand right as things seem relaxed enough to do so, and in doing so fulfils its prime directive of being a rather fun and entertaining movie that genuinely keeps you guessing throughout most of it.
Just one of its many closely-played cards is the fact that the supposed author of the Argylle novel, Elly Conway, is not actually real (or at least, not the real name of the otherwise mysterious author – who, by the way, is almost definitely not Taylor Swift, as seems to be the current rumour going around). Conway is, in fact, the lead character in this movie, as played by Bryce Dallas Howard, wherein she is a successful novelist who has penned a series of popular books about fictional secret agent Argylle (Henry Cavill) and his international escapades with right-hand man Wyatt (John Cena).
However, whilst on a train journey to visit her mother Ruth (Catherine O’Hara), she encounters a man named Aidan (Sam Rockwell), who claims to be a real spy and promptly saves her from an attempted assassination. Aidan later explains that Conway’s fiction has, somehow, aligned with actual missions by a secretive government organisation known as the Division, headed by the ruthless Ritter (Bryan Cranston), and that they are now after Elly to stop her from inadvertently revealing some dirty info on the agency. Now, Elly – and her backpack-bound cat Alfie – must join Aiden on an actual mission where nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing is as it seems.
I’ll refrain from divulging any further plot details, because there are certain twists and turns that do not deserve to be spoiled for you during this, or indeed any, review. What I will say, though, is that Argylle keeps Vaughn’s playful approach to the spy genre very much alive, following his stylish espionage-esque take on X-Men: First Class and, of course, his three Kingsman movies to date (with another reported to be in the works). While this film doesn’t go as hard or even as graphic, since Vaughn is clearly aiming for a wider audience this time with its PG-13/12A rating, it does retain a lot of that visceral and almost hypnotic fight choreography which, at times, feels like you’re watching a slightly more violent ballet set to Vaughn’s bouncy and light-hearted direction. It gets pretty colourful as well, particularly with a couple of fantastically executed sequences that, again, I’ll keep under wraps for your viewing pleasure, but needless to say you’ll know exactly which ones I mean when you see it.
The action scenes in general are extremely enjoyable to watch, whether they’re in the fictitious and intentionally cheesy spy world of Henry Cavill’s Argylle – who at one point chases Dua Lipa literally through the streets of Greece in a tiny MOKE car – or the slightly grittier, but no less heightened reality that Bryce Dallas Howard’s Elly suddenly finds herself in. On that note, don’t let the marketing fool you into thinking that Cavill is the lead in this movie (though that is clearly by design), as he is a supporting player at best in what is largely a two-hander between Howard and Sam Rockwell, the latter playing this more jaded and world-wearier older spy that’s a neat parallel to many of the cooler and collected figures in the genre. The chemistry between the two lead actors is a lot of fun, reminiscent of Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone, a film that Argylle as a whole (again, without giving anything away) owes a lot of its inspiration to, albeit with a few tricks up its own sleeve. And yes, Rockwell does indeed dance in this movie, quite a few times actually, because if Sam Rockwell dances, even when the movie is bad, you know that it’s going to be a good time.
While Vaughn’s overall execution is solid, and the film in its entirety is a good time that most audiences will likely enjoy as well, Argylle occasionally struggles to completely hold your attention. That’s because the script, by Jason Fuchs, presents a rather complicated and at times convoluted narrative that you’d need to have razor-sharp focus in order to pick up on what exactly is happening at any given moment. This can be trickier than you might think, because there is a lot of exposition dialogue that drops a significant amount of plot points all at once, enough to tangle them all up together and make it harder to pull them apart and analyse them one by one. It also means that there are surprisingly long stretches where there isn’t any of that invigorating action, with the time instead being spent on delivering more and more exposition on top of one another, and after a little while you’re eager for the story to move on to the next big action beat in order to get its pacing back on track.
However, when it eventually does regain its footing, Argylle is a sizeable blast of enjoyment. There are a number of reveals that are quite unexpected and make the stakes and relationships ever more concerning, and the deeper it goes into some of its biggest secrets, it’s fun seeing exactly how both Vaughn and Fuchs unravel the mystery without going too far beyond the realm of its own reality. The ensemble cast, which also includes some lively turns by Samuel L. Jackson, Ariana DeBose and Sofia Boutella, are all clearly enjoying themselves and deliver plenty of crowd-pleasing moments that certainly made my audience go crazy a couple of times.
Most of all, it is pure unadulterated fun that only occasionally stretches its limits, particularly within the narrative department, but not too much to where Argylle becomes a farce or, worse, a self-aware jab at typical spy movie conventions. As with Vaughn’s Kingsman movies, it never takes itself too seriously and just focuses on giving the audience as enjoyable a time as it possibly can, while still being a very entertaining spy movie in its own right, with the director’s clear love for the genre shining through in eye-popping and very well-choreographed fashion.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Argylle is a very enjoyable spy caper that sees director Matthew Vaughn continue to play around within the spy movie genre to largely pleasing effect, even if at times the script by Jason Fuchs struggles to keep its own momentum going – but be sure not to give away some of its most shocking secrets, which deserve to be experienced on their own.