A Matthew Vaughn (Kingsman: The Secret Service) film with spies, a stacked cast, and a mysterious plot — what could go wrong? Apparently, a lot. Argylle stars Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World) as Elly Conway, a writer of a series of espionage thriller novels called “Argylle”. When Aidan, played by Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2), saves her life, she is thrown into the world of espionage. Elly’s stories predicted real-world events, leading multiple agencies to keep tabs on her. Finishing her latest book is the only way Aidan can bring down The Division, an evil organization behind assassinations and other clandestine activities.
Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) plays the fictional Agent Argylle, who appears as Elly writes her book as well as whenever she inserts him in place of Aidan, with the action unfolding in front of her. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) plays the stereotypical leader of The Division, while Catherine O’Hara (Schitt’s Creek) stars as Elly’s mom. Argylle’s story is mostly a fish out of water one, with twists and turns that try to both surprise and entertain. Because of that, it can be easily spoiled, but you should know we won’t be covering any of the twists with specificity in this review.
Argylle’s Too Much For Its Own Good
A good twist can make a mediocre movie interesting. Unfortunately, there are plenty of twists in Argylle and they range from utterly stupid to fine. By the time you get to the last 30 minutes of the film they actively make it worse, slowing down time and weighing on the pacing. It’s 139 minutes long, but it felt like I was sitting in the theater for four hours. Some of the twists are also contradictory. If you think about the decisions the characters make based on information provided in the movie not 30 minutes earlier, you realize that they don’t make any sense. It’s reminiscent of an Austin Powers movie, but instead of laughing you can’t help but cringe.
Too much happens in Argylle, sometimes awkwardly transitioning to the middle of a scene in the blink of an eye. These transitions combined with the weird visualizations of Agent Argylle have a disorienting effect. Now, that might be what Vaughn was going for, but it makes Argylle a worse film. The visual effects are frustratingly bad in some scenes. Most of the action scenes are set pieces, with one or two good ideas behind them. But, the actors usually look murky or it’s extremely obvious that it’s a visual effects shot.
Some of the simpler exterior shots look awful too. A scene at the beginning has Argylle driving through a Greek town, grinding some stairs in a car like he’s playing a giant version of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. But during the grind, the car looks hideously out of place and Cavill looks somewhat monstrous. Thankfully, sometimes the ideas of the set pieces are interesting enough to overlook these flaws, or at least to enjoy those scenes despite them.
Not Entirely Devoid of Fun
The shining star of the film is Sam Rockwell. He plays Aidan like a dollar-store Ethan Hunt. He’s a competent spy, but messier than the idyllic Agent Argylle. Aidan’s mostly sarcastic and charismatic unless he’s gruffly complaining about the cat, Alfie. Without the drunken uncle charm of Rockwell, Argylle wouldn’t be memorable at all. He makes it worth the watch. This isn’t to say anyone else gives a terrible performance, either. Bryce Dallas Howard does the best with what she’s given, while Catherine O’Hara and Bryan Cranston nail their roles.
John Cena (Peacemaker) and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) are good too, while Cavill plays his part perfectly. Even with the goofy haircut, Argylle is suave when he needs to be, and when he parrots Elly’s inner thoughts, Cavill is genuinely funny. Argylle is an action-comedy, so there are a fair amount of jokes in the film. Luckily, not many of them fall flat, and most of the actors deliver them well. Cranston has some physical comedy with Elly’s cat that made me laugh, even though it was brief.
Argylle has a good soundtrack. The songs that are used accompany the scenes well, completing an action scene, or complementing a motif. However, they just repeat those few songs throughout the movie, so by the time it ends they just end up being repetitive. Thankfully, one of the songs is “Now and Then” by The Beatles, so hearing it a few times isn’t too bad. Vaughn’s sense of style is also all over the costume and production design, which look good in most scenes. That said, the sets did look a tad empty and bleak at times. The flashier scenes worked better for the tone of the movie.
Argylle is Exhausting and Forgettable
Ultimately, the twists and turns should tire out any audience member paying attention to the story. There are some fun moments with actors doing their very best to wring out something from an awful script, but there’s not much they could have done better. It’s visually murky with a repetitive soundtrack and an inconsistent style.
If you’re looking for a fun spy romp, there are better options for you to seek out, including the ones in Vaughn’s very own filmography. I can’t recommend watching Argylle in theaters. It might be best enjoyed on a plane or television while browsing channels in a couple of years. That way you can start it halfway through, not realize how much of the movie you missed, and not be as confused or as annoyed as if you were to watch it in a theater. You can catch Argylle in theaters now if you feel the need to do so.