'Argylle' Is Stupid, but Not Stupid Enough

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Henry Cavill, John Cena, Dua Lipa, Bryan Cranston, Sofia Boutella, Ariana DeBose, Catherine O'Hara, Samuel L. Jackson

BY Rachel HoPublished Feb 1, 2024


Bear with me on this one. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Elly Conway, a successful author whose espionage series Argylle has captured the imagination of America. In the book series, Agent Argylle and his partner Wyatt — played by Henry Cavill and John Cena, respectively, in dramatizations of Elly's novels — are on a spy mission to track down a “Masterkey” (we're getting lazy with the MacGuffin naming, eh?) to expose "The Division," the de facto bad guy organization that does non-descript bad guy things.

As Elly struggles with writer's block to complete the fifth book, she takes a train to see her parents and meets Aidan (Sam Rockwell), a good guy spy in the real world, who informs her that her books have inexplicably mirrored actual events. The good guy spies and the Division have been tracking Elly down to find out how Agent Argylle's mission concludes and therefore, how their mission concludes.

The entirety of the movie plays out like a bad spy novel, from the dialogue to the fight scenes to the mugging for the camera, with director Matthew Vaughn and writer Jason Fuchs (presumably) taking the piss out of the genre — and, to their credit, a lot of the stupidity of the premise is explained in a decently fun way. There's no question that Vaughn understands the genre and can create a properly entertaining spy movie. Amusingly, his actual abilities as a filmmaker inhibit his ability to make Argylle what it so desperately tries to be: an unserious romp.

Stupid movies are a grand cinematic tradition. Some of the most enduring and endearing stupid films drown themselves in brilliant stupidity, but to do so requires careful crafting and ingenuity. Argylle rests on a B+ movie idea that requires so much set-up and explanation, it muddles the stupid.

For two hours, we agonizingly try to parse through the drivel and the competent. Internal pleadings for the film to mercifully end go unanswered, and another pointless sequence begins. By the time we reach the film's ridiculous conclusion, little fun is to be had and patience is incredibly thin.

Not for nothing, the entire ensemble knows exactly what kind of film they're in and go for broke playing up their stereotypes; it almost makes matters worse how talented the cast is, given what a fruitless endeavour Vaughn tasks them with. Howard, Rockwell, Cranston, O'Hara and Cavill approach the film with a broad simplicity that Vaughn lacks and the movie sorely needs.

What made the Kingsman films (the first one in particular) so successful was Vaughn's unwavering commitment to the bit, and perhaps Argylle could've come out on top had he done the same here. Commit to the stupid.

(Universal Pictures)

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