An action-packed self-aware spy spoof from Matthew Vaughn? Sign me up! Or so I, and perhaps you, thought. After directing the surprisingly funny and fresh Kingsman: The Secret Service, I was hopeful that Argylle would be a return to form with a similarly spy-tinged plot. Sadly for you, and star Bryce Dallas Howard, Argylle is a total bust.
Howard stars as spy novelist Elly Conway who, having just completed the fourth book in her Argylle series, is about to wrap up the spy’s next outing. Needing some help with the ending of her next book, Elly packs her beloved cat into an argyle backpack and takes a train to her parent’s house after her mother (Catherine O’Hara) suggests a brainstorming session. On the train, she meets Aiden (Sam Rockwell), who claims to not only be a spy, but warns that a dark organization known as the Division has put a target on her after her novels uncannily predict real-world events in the espionage world.
The film alternates between the imaginary world of Elly’s Argylle novels with the fantastical real-world events. Here, Henry Cavill (with a haircut reminiscent of Dolph Lundgren in Rocky III) stars in her daydreams as a super spy whose antics would make James Bond jealous. Aided by a crack team that includes John Cena and Ariana DeBose, Elly’s Argylle daydreams seem to mesh with her new real-world predicament, indicated through the obnoxious overuse of Elly’s point of view as shown through her blinking eyes.
Cutting between Elly’s world and that of Agent Argylle at an exhaustingly frenetic pace, the film feels as though it was created as a marketing campaign built on flashy visuals. With brightly-colours and an over-reliance on CGI, Argylle wears its welcome out quickly. There is nothing of substance here and nothing for audiences to latch onto when what’s at stake seems to change at breakneck speed.
Plot twists give viewers whiplash as we’re thrust from one ridiculous scenario to another. Elly’s real-world bears such little resemblance to our actual real world that tension never really builds into anything meaningful. Convoluted story threads eventually come together in a meaningless way as the film can’t pick a genre or tone and stick with it. Tropes are stretched far too thin in Jason Fuchs’ script that by the time the movie begins to embrace its absurdity in its third act, it’s far too late.
As Aiden, Rockwell flits between Austin Powers-esque zaniness and 007 stoicism. And while it’s great to see Howard land a lead role, Conway is such a bland wet blanket built on hapless writer cliches that viewers have seen before. There was an opportunity here to send up these very cliches or turn a frenetically-paced spy movie into the new Bullet Train but Argylle drops the ball at every turn.
It’s impossible to delve further into the many perplexing plot problems with Argylle without giving several plot twists away. Equally baffling is that for a film that changes track so quickly, the final product clocks in at an over-long 140 minutes.
Don’t be fooled by the film’s poster or trailer which boasts a bevy of A-list stars like Cavill, Cena, and Dua Lipa. Their combined screen time amounts to less than five minutes of the film, while other stars including O’Hara and Bryan Cranston are underused.
The story behind Argylle is only mildly more interesting. Perpetual rumours swirled that “Elly Conway”, the real mystery writer behind the actual book the movie is based on, is actually Taylor Swift. It’s utterly preposterous to believe that this pseudonym is anything other than a marketing ploy, and not even a clever one at that.
And what of the marketing campaign’s real star, Conway’s beloved pet cat, Alfie? Alfie is played by Chip, director Vaughn and wife Claudia Schiffer’s cat. Yes, that’s right, Vaughn made an entire movie featuring his cat. The cat is only featured in a few scenes and the rest of the time is replaced with an awful CGI cat that is so distracting when on screen it’s impossible to look anywhere else when its weirdly rendered paws are on screen. (Seriously, I’ve seen many cat paws and that is not what they look like).
There may be a good story buried somewhere in Argylle, but the reward won’t be worth the effort of trying to find it.
Argylle is now in theatres nationwide.