Opening to a $20 million weekend (on a $200 million budget) and coupled with a host of scathing reviews isn’t exactly the greatest start for Matthew Vaughn’s latest Argylle. It’s poor opening had made me slightly apprehensive, hence my review coming almost a week after its release. Even so, I’m not usually one to be put off by poor reviews, and in fact they piqued my curiosity. Could Argylle truly be that bad?
After watching the film, it has further cemented my realization that I am clearly out of touch with what modern audiences enjoy. Argylle is in no way perfect but I had an entertaining time, with it having Vaughn’s typical winning mix of comedy and well choreographed action scenes. It is a more sanitized Vaughn film from what we are used to, lacking the R rated violence of Kingsman, with Argylle being the lightest and most accessible film Vaughn has made since Stardust. Let’s put it like this, there’s nothing here you’d be embarrassed watching in front of your mum.
The film centers on the life of secluded novelist Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), currently working her way through the fifth novel in her popular spy series Argylle. Struggling with the ending of her latest work, on the suggestion of her mother she takes a train journey to go visit her so they can both work on the book’s finale. On Elly’s train ride she finds herself dragged into the real world of espionage when she comes into contact with disheveled secret agent Aidan Wylde (Sam Rockwell).
Aidan explains to Elly that it seems that the events in her novels are coming true to life and because of this shadowy organization The Division wants her silenced. Aidan convinces Elly to travel to England with him with the hopes that the next chapter in her novel will reveal how to bring down The Division once and for all.
As Elly tries to figure out how her fictional world is becoming a reality, further secrets are revealed with it not being clear who she can really trust, with even her own past being brought into question.
Argylle is admittedly convoluted. Working from a screenplay by Jason Fuchs, Vaughn’s latest is filled with twists upon twists. Just when you think you’re getting a handle on the plot and characters, some other twist is revealed which changes your view of everything that has come before. I noted online some complaining they found the film confusing, which just makes me sad, because if you struggled understanding Argylle I don’t think there is much hope for you.
Although the more excessive traits of Vaughn’s style may be absent, he still injects proceedings with his distinct visual style, with only some lifeless CGI letting things down. For the most part Vaughn keeps things moving along at a decent pace, with you never having to wait too long until another crazy action scene. It does slightly lag in the last third of the film, but then we are treated to the insane finale which makes up for it.
The action alternates between hand to hand fights and gunplay, with each set piece being distinct from the last, filled with creative choreography courtesy of the late, great Brad Allen. The film’s opening action scene is an over the top car chase that resembles something out of The Fast and the Furious series.
This scene isn’t indicative of what’s to come later, as it is purposefully over the top as it takes place in one of Elly’s novels. That’s not to say that the ensuing action adopts a gritty Jason Bourne style, but it is certainly more grounded. Well at least until it isn’t, with the lead up to the finale featuring two ridiculously entertaining action scenes that stretch levels of plausibility but managed to put such a grin across my face that by this point I didn’t mind.
The first “real” action scene is a better example of the film’s action style and of what’s to come. Featuring Sam Rockwell taking on a fleet of hired assassins on a speeding train, it works both as a way to introduce Rockwell’s character but also showcase Allen’s imaginative action design. Vaughn gives it an added level of fun by showing the fight from Elly’s perspective, with her envisioning Cavill’s Argylle in place of Rockwell’s Aiden.
Personally, I think many people’s issues with Argylle could be down to how it has been marketed. With the trailers being intentionally misleading, you would be forgiven in thinking that Henry Cavill is going to be one of the main characters of the film. In total, Cavill is lucky if he has 15 minutes screen time. Cavill is expectedly suave and charming in the limited screen time he is given, but if you’re only showing up for him you will be bitterly disappointed.
Rather than Cavill being the focus, this is clearly Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell’s show, with the two of them sharing terrific chemistry. I actually preferred the film focused on them as it separated Argylle from other spy actioners. Howard is as likeable as ever as the anxiety filled Elly, with her getting to be much more than be the expected damsel in distress. Howard even gets in on the action when the time comes, with her and Rockwell taking part in what could only be described as the most romantic shootout ever put on screen.
Rockwell may seem like an unusual choice for an action lead, but he throws himself right into the fight scenes and shootouts. This wasn’t too surprising as he does have some previous experience with the genre, most memorably in action comedy Mr Right (2015). While much smaller in scale than Argylle, it showed that Rockwell was more than capable of carrying off an action movie. Very much like his character in that film, Rockwell gets an opportunity to show off his romantic side while at the same time kicking ass.
Their co-stars admittedly don’t get as much to do. Bryan Cranston is always good, but for the most part he is just relegated to barking orders at his men. Samuel L Jackson on the other hand looks as if he could have filmed his full performance in a day, with all but one of his scenes taking place in the same location.
The wonderful Catherine O’Hara fares better as Elly’s overbearing mother, with her straddling the fine line between comedy and drama. Also making an impression, albeit in a limited capacity, is John Cena who once again shows off his comedy chops. More of him would have been welcome but that wouldn’t be in line with the story Vaughn wants to tell.
I know a lot will strongly disagree with my review. I can already tell by the amount of negative comments online that Argylle hasn’t exactly found its desired audience. This is a shame, as by the looks of it, many are judging the film before even watching it. I would suggest going in with an open mind and lower your expectations and you will get a fair amount of enjoyment out of this fun, breezy spy yarn.
Argylle is in no way perfect and doesn’t rank close to Vaughn’s best. The film’s ending might just be one twist too many, but it does open the potential franchise up to even wider possibilities. Sadly, with its poor box office performance the chance of a sequel looks highly unlikely, but stranger things have happened.
The perceived financial failure of the film could be down to the film’s reported budget. You may wonder how something like Argylle cost $200 million. However, Vaughn has refuted claims that the film cost even close to this. It would seem many have incorrectly reported the $200 million that Apple TV+ paid for the film rights is how much it actually cost to make. It would be interesting to know how much the film actually cost to produce, as this could be the deciding factor if there is to be further Argylle adventures.
Plot: 3/5 Acting: 4/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3.5/5