The Plot: Novelist Elly (Bryce Dallas Howard) has a best-selling series of books involving the exploits of suave spy Argylle (Henry Cavill). He dashes around trying to stop the bad guys without breaking a sweat and is the kind of hero that inspires Elly in her own, considerably less-glamorous life. While onboard a train, she encounters the scruffy Aidan (Sam Rockwell) who reveals himself to be an actual spy trying to defend her from a secret organisation that wants her. It turns out that Elly’s research into espionage is eerily similar to the real thing, so she goes on the run with Aidan to discover the real truth behind the truth…
The Verdict: If director Matthew Vaughn ever got a shot at making a James Bond film, then it might look something like Argylle. He had already honed his spycraft to some degree with The Kingsman series, expanding it out to include a prequel and has yet more films in the series incoming. Argylle though is very much influenced by the Bond films, along with a dash of Romancing The Stone and a cheeky nod towards co-star Samuel L. Jackson’s earlier film The Long Kiss Goodnight. It’s still very much a Vaughn joint though, styled up to the hilt and shot through with a knowing sense of humour. It’s also a wild cocktail mixed together with various disparate elements, some of which work and some of which don’t. If Vaughn is making an unofficial audition here, then the Bond producers might find it all too much and too out of control for the more sophisticated edge that they require. Argylle is something of a blunt instrument at that.
The script by Jason Fuchs has some interesting ideas spinning around about the creative process and how it can blur the lines between reality and fantasy. This is when the world that Elly writes about in a fictional space spills into her own world, causing chaos and an evolving identity crisis as she has to woman up to take on the traits of her lead character – so to speak. That character arc then becomes the driving force of the film, aided along by Aidan’s buddy support as he encourages her to make it from one scrape to the next. That would be enough to sustain the whole film while showing that Elly is capable of more than just sitting at her computer and watching her cool cat Alfie. This then is the problem with Argylle: Vaughn feels the need to shovel on bucketloads of exposition, backstory and an increasingly far-fetched plot to move Elly along to a different level of meaning. It’s what happens when a director becomes too smug about his film, going for broke in a vain attempt to compensate for its shortcomings. Ice skating on crude oil, anyone?
That said, there is fun to be had here. There’s a visual flair to the film which is arresting, with the fight sequences getting the right tone including a loopy, multi-coloured one towards the end. There are spot-on performances from Henry Cavill channelling his inner Bond (he auditioned for the role) and the dependable Sam Rockwell who provides a much-needed anchor character when everyone else is losing their heads (and other body parts). Bryce Dallas Howard fares less well, unsure of where her character lands at any one point in time. The script is always several steps ahead of the actor, meaning that she struggles to make sense of it all and render her character into something fully formed. Meanwhile, spare a thought for Oscar winner Ariana DeBose who is criminally reduced to little more than a few lines. One has to wonder why she even bothered.
Vaughn’s overconfidence nearly kills the latter half of the film with its constant character reversals, taken-back deaths and increasingly convoluted plot. It’s like watching a filmed version of the Twister board game where everyone is trying to put their hand or foot on the right circle, tangling themselves up in the process. In a sense then, it’s amusing to watch things fall apart but one wishes that Vaughn had shown more self-control and not shot so many blanks from this sawed-off shotgun of a film. It’s not subtle by any means, but it’s passable popcorn nonsense that you won’t remember next week. One star for Cavill, one star for Rockwell and, er, half a star for Alfie then.
Rating: 2.5 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Shoots too many blanks
Argylle (UK / USA / 12A / 139 mins)
In short: Shoots too many blanks
Directed by Matthew Vaughn.
Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Henry Cavill, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O'Hara, Samuel L. Jackson.