Movie Review: ARGYLLE Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Henry Cavill, Sam Rockwell, John Cena
Do you like absurdly good-looking people?
Are you a fan of having so many plot twists, the plot twists have their own plot twists?
Are you needing something to do for two hours and 20 minutes? If so, have I got the movie for you!
Mathew Vaughn has been in the industry for a while, starting as a producer in the 90’s before moving up in the world and directing/producing/writing many of his own movies. When Kingsman: The Secret Service came out in 2014, it was a smash hit. Made for under $100 million, it ended up grossing over $400 million at the box office. I still adore the film; I watch it every now and then when I need something fun to watch, and Taron Egerton has become one of my favorite actors. While its follow-up, The Golden Circle, did similar numbers, it fared worse than its predecessor. The King’s Man, a prequel set during World War I, was released in the dawn of the COVID lockdown, so it’s hard to gauge the box office performance, but it was panned even harder (I admittedly was one of the minority who liked it, certainly better than Circle).
Ten years removed from the initial success of the original Kingsman film, Vaughn is back at it with yet another entry into the espionage action-thriller genre, Argylle. Ostensibly set in a different universe from Kingsman, Argylle tries to give its audience a new slant on the genre: rather than plucking a young person off the street and training them to become a secret agent, the film follows an incredibly successful writer, Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard). Once a struggling waitress, she’s managed to establish herself as a leading spy novelist, successful enough that her novels centered around agent Aubrey Argylle (Henry Caville) have merchandise and action figures.
Just how good is Elly at portraying the world of espionage? Good enough that apparently a real-world spy agency is after her. As it turns out, the manuscript of the novel she’s currently working on is actually unfolding around her, and the agency is desperate for her to finish the novel so it can play out in real life. She’s introduced to this concept in a rather abrupt manner, as a seemingly innocuous man who sits next to her on the train, Aidan (Sam Rockwell), saves her and her cat, Alfie (played by Chip, who in real life is the beloved cat of Vaughn and his wife, Claudia Schiffer), from being kidnapped by the mysterious agency known only as The Division.
That’s really about the extent of the plot I’m willing to provide here, as that’s about what the trailer shows, and if there’s one thing Argylle absolutely nails, it’s subterfuge. I saw the trailer repeatedly in theaters and I was pretty excited for the movie I thought I was going to see, but after the first 30 minutes or so, Argylle starts flipping everything on its head. I’d heard the trailer only showed scenes from the first 20 minutes of the film to avoid spoilers, and while that’s not completely true, it’s accurate enough that I’m going to abide by that idea.
Unfortunately, the film’s biggest strength also becomes its biggest flaw. This film is packed with so many plot twists, it starts unraveling in the second half. Vaughn tries his absolute best to be as clever as possible, and while it does succeed at times, I couldn’t help but think people left the theater wondering what the hell they’d just watched. I enjoy clever, smart movies that make you think and surprise you at times, but I can only take so many “a-ha!” moments in a single sitting before I start to just rage internally. The movie even ends with a (light-hearted) plot twist, and the mid-credits scene makes it even worse.
Argylle is billed as an action-comedy, so it doesn’t take itself too seriously – until it does. At times, it bounces back and forth between an absurd comedy with outlandish, over-the-top, brightly-colored action sequences that will call back to the head-popping rainbow-generating scene in the original Kingsman (not the first or only such reference, by the way) and brutally fast hand-to-hand combat with some attempts at being somewhat serious. The tone shift is noticeable, and I don’t think it’s a good thing.
On the plus side, I think most of the actors did well with their performances, and I found myself laughing audibly a few times and chuckling at others. My friend who accompanied me, Tori, wasn’t as amused, claiming, “The movie seemed like it should be a comedy but I only laughed a handful of times.” She also felt the actors didn’t really play to their strengths, with the exception of Cavill.
It’s hard for me to strongly recommend this movie, despite my best efforts to like it. There is some stuff in there to like, but at the same time, there’s a lot left to be desired. It certainly has its enjoyable moments The film tries too hard to outwit itself, and unfortunately, I think it succeeded.
Argylle gets a C+