Elly Conway’s cat, Alfie, that serves no narrative purpose. Photo courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.
EMMA MCLEAN | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
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After months of extravagant marketing, “Argylle” arrived in theaters to an audience of hopefuls and cynics alike. Matthew Vaughn’s action-comedy follows a spy-thriller author who finds herself in a situation of her own perilous invention, confronting what previously only existed in her imagination. Vaughn is recognized for making films packed with mystery and mayhem, but critics believe that “Argylle” is mostly just the latter.
The film opens with Argylle — portrayed by Henry Cavill — in a physically impossible car chase across Greece’s beautiful landscape. As Argylle and his unsettling flattop hairstyle encounter danger and uncertainty, so does Elly Conway — portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard. Elly is an anxious and reclusive novelist whose imagination produces the famed Argylle book series, which is notorious for accurately predicting real-life events, but she encounters difficulty in concluding the fifth book in the saga. On a mission to write the last chapter, she travels to her parents’ home. Across from her on the train sits Aidan — portrayed by Sam Rockwell — who very casually confesses his involvement with espionage. This sets off an epically choreographed and truly impressive fight scene against the spies who want to capture Elly, perfectly paired with “Do You Wanna Funk” by Patrick Cowley and Sylvester James.
The film’s hypnotizing stunts, together with its ironic tone, are certainly its greatest assets. “Argylle” deliberately leans toward absurdity with self-awareness, depicting classic spy clichés through a satirical lens. This is frequently accomplished quite effectively, with expensive fight scenes and a cast that knows not to take themselves too seriously. Elly embarks on a surreal, mind-bending and fantastical adventure as she tries to figure out what in her life is real or fiction. This setup would make for an intriguing fast feature, except “Argylle” is anything but quick.
The film has a tedious and unwarranted two-hour and 20-minute run-time, which critically hinders its potential. “Argylle” is so dependent on its moments of intensity that in their absence, it loses all momentum. When the characters aren’t free-falling into water or fighting spies, the movie comes to an awkward stand-still, asking the audience to care about characters who have not earned emotional investment. The run-time also allows for many, many curveballs. The marketing of “Argylle” highlighted the film’s epic plot twists and mysteries, and they were certainly present. The twists begin as exciting and complicated revelations but are ultimately diluted by their continual presence and desperation to be interesting.
The Apple-funded and produced “Argylle” grossed $18 million in its opening weekend, while it cost around $200 million to make. This, paired with being widely slammed by critics, makes “Argylle” a miss, despite the intensive marketing featuring Henry Cavill and Dua Lipa, who were in no way the stars of the film. “Argylle” could have benefited from promoting its strengths, namely the engaging and effortless chemistry between Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell.
“Argylle” had the potential to be a satirical espionage hit, but by the end, it became the same thing it was mocking. It was frequently very fun but failed to recognize a strong through-line. The movie’s eventual and long-winded end features the newly released Beatles song “Now And Then”, another reveal that a character is not really dead and a massive, booming explosion that the characters heroically look away from. Is Vaughn channeling the absurdity of tired espionage films, or did he merely make another?
“Argylle” is now in theaters and will eventually be available to stream on AppleTV+.