Director Matthew Vaughn has become the go-to guy for cheeky, action-packed spy flicks like Kingsman that winkingly pay homage to the James Bond franchise. His latest romp, Argylle, takes the parody up a notch by being a spy thriller inside a spy thriller. We meet mild-mannered author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), who pens bestselling novels about a dashing secret agent named Argylle (Henry Cavill). But during a train ride to visit her mom, a scruffy stranger named Aidan (Sam Rockwell) reveals to Elly that he’s an actual spy—and her fiction seems to be mirroring reality.
Soon bullets are flying and Elly’s larger-than-life heroic fantasies collide with the gritty, high-stakes world of covert ops. Has her imagination somehow tapped into real-life classified intel? Either way, she and Aidan must race to find a dangerous “master file” before it falls into the wrong hands. With lives at risk, Elly sees the line between fact and fiction blur. Vaughn has cooked up an intriguing premise where a writer’s creative vision shapes high-octane adventures ripped from the pages of her own work. Can they crack the case before the forces of evil track Elly down? Strap in for a wild meta ride where not everything is what it seems.
When Fact Meets Fiction
Quirky author Elly Conway leads a quiet life, content to let her imagination run wild while she pens bestselling spy novels featuring dapper secret agent Argylle. But during a train ride to visit her mom, a scruffy stranger named Aidan drops some bombshell revelations.
First, he ominously warns Elly that her life is in danger from shadowy forces who seem rather miffed about the latest cliffhanger ending in her book series. And here’s the real shocker: Aidan reveals he’s actually a spy—and the espionage adventures Elly dreams up keep weirdly predicting super top secret real-world events before they happen!
As they dodge a hail of assassins’ bullets aboard the train, Elly glimpses Aidan suddenly transform into the dashing Agent Argylle right before her eyes. Whoa…reality and fantasy are colliding big time.
According to Aidan, Elly’s books have inadvertently exposed some seriously classified intel about a mysterious crime syndicate called The Division. Now the org’s ruthless leader Ritter wants the next manuscript at any cost to find a dangerous “master file.” With lives hanging in the balance, tech genius Aidan whisks a bewildered Elly on a frantic globe-trotting quest to retrieve the file first.
Cue the film’s zippy signature mix of Gunplay! Fisticuffs! High-speed chases! And some spy movie tropes lovingly ripped from the Bond playbook. As the mission intensifies, scenes shift chaotically back and forth between Elly’s far-fetched heroic imaginings and her all-too-real predicament.
Has Elly’s writerly gift granted her visions of the future? Or is something even more unbelievable happening? Either way, she faces a trial by fire to complete her book as the forces of evil close in. Buckle up alongside Aidan and Elly for a conspiracy-laced thrill ride where the truth twists and turns as wildly as the bullets flying by our dynamic duo’s heads!
The Spy Who Confused Me
Argylle comes out swinging with an alluring elevator pitch: beloved author’s fictional hero seems to manifest in real life! And at first, director Matthew Vaughn seems to have all the right moves needed for a slick spy caper. We get a killer concept centered on Bryce Dallas Howard’s appealing everywoman thrust into danger when her stories prove eerily accurate. Howard and co-star Sam Rockwell light up an unlikely pairing with razor-sharp chemistry. Plus a smattering of fun nods to the spy genre keeps things popping.
But Argylle quickly loses the intrigue game by failing to fully commit to its crazy idea’s mind-bending possibilities. We end up with a Frankenstein monster stitched together from recycled action movie parts.
What goes right? Howard’s overwhelmed writer makes an endearing anchor to ground the zaniness. And Rockwell’s shaggy cool fuels the film’s best moments. The duo clicks together as Elly’s safe world collides with Aidan’s spy antics. We buy these two guiding us through all the dizzying sleight-of-hand. And every new corkscrew plot twist packs potential to thrill…initially.
Some individual scenes also shine by striking the right spy flick tone. The opening dance-fight stylishly introduces Vaughn’s signature cheeky energy. When Elly sees Aidan shift before her eyes into suave Agent Argyle mid-combat, it’s a giddy rush. And a climactic shootout staged as an elegant dance number pops visually when not bogged down by spotty CGI.
But too much of that slick promise slips away when Argylle transforms into a generic spy blender movie. Endless recycled tropes and cliches water down any distinctiveness. And at over 2 hours, Argylle wears out its welcome fast. Bloated runtime means fight scenes lose impact through repetition. And the film’s loopy-but-charming first half gives way to total narrative chaos where exponentially more reveals just lead to confusion.
Beyond the stars, few characters getdimension either. Talents like Cranston and Catherine O’Hara make quick pit stops without enough funny dialogue or motivation to help them shine. And most of the supporting players come off like placeholders lining up for generic twists.
What seals Argylle’s fate is how it teases blending reality with imagination…then opts instead for routine video game adventures. Vaughn overloads on weightless CGI that erases any stakes instead of harnessing Elly’s writerly gift for maximum oddness. And he flubs the ending by trying to explain the unexplainable. In the finale, both lead performances get drowned out by sloppy storytelling that offers all sizzle, no steak. What begins as intriguingly offbeat ends up another case of spy movie déjà vu. Argylle engages best when at its loopiest. Too bad it loses the plot to become simply run-of-the-mill.
Vaughn kicks things off in the Greek isles with a bang, introducing Agent Argylle via an elaborate dance/duel between Cavill’s super spy and femme fatale Lagrange (Dua Lipa) as bullets fly. It’s a glossy, hyper-stylized opener signaling the cheeky energy to come.
Once the real adventure kicks in, Aidan spilling spy secrets to a stunned Elly on the train allows for inventive editing as she visually overlaps him with heroic Argylle. This trippy transition sequence marries fiction and reality with wit.
We also get an action interlude accented in purple and yellow theatrical smoke. During this climactic shootout, combat choreography and editing rhythmically sync to soundtrack cue “Now and Then.” It’s a dizzyingly surreal, hearts and bullets flying stylistic standout…until questionable CGI diminishes tension. Still, the scene encapsulates Argylle’s playful potential when all elements align.
These moments best encapsulate the film’s strengths. Slick production design combines with Vaughn’s signature modern nostalgia song choices and eccentric visual ideas. For brief stretches, the mixer blends into an irresistible spy smoothie. But only a few scenes tangibly deliver on that tasty promise.
Vaughn seems intensely interested in exploring imagination’s power to shape reality through Elly’s writerly gift prophesying actual events. Argylle wants to suggest truth proves stranger than fiction. But the film struggles to fully express its own ambitious ideas about fluid boundaries between worlds.
We get nods to archetypes: the ordinary person tossed into peril when special skills are needed to save the day. Elly’s book smarts and narrative clairvoyance position her as a most reluctant Chosen One. Her bond with Aidan also follows classic odd couple pairing tropes. He schools her in daring while she teaches him emotional intelligence.
And loving pastiche means Argylle interacts playfully with spy thriller conventions. Vaughn delights in both hitting familiar story beats…then pulling the rug out from under viewers by subverting expectations. The film wants us to feel simultaneously grounded yet confused in ways that mirror Elly’s chaotic mindmelding with Agent Argylle’s dashing spy antics.
But again, the promise outweighs the execution. Elly’s surreal skill should fuel questions about imagination’s power to manifest external realities. But muddled plotting obscures any concrete thematic resonance. In the end, Argylle’s messaging mostly amounts to: watch out for plot twists! Without exploring its core ideas more deeply, the film defaults to spy genre Mad Libs.
A Slick Shell, But Hollow Inside
At first glance, Argylle dazzles as exceptional eye and ear candy. Vaughn’s slick style means ultra-glossy, larger-than-life visuals overflowing with color and kinetic energy. We globe-hop through decadent locales like a jetsetter with an unlimited budget. And Balfe’s propulsive score accentuates fight choreography to mostly thrilling effect.
When the film sticks to practical effects and stunt work, action set pieces prove slick crowd-pleasers that celebrate Vaughn’s playful showmanship. But all too often, shaky CGI trips up the spy Games. Green screen backdrops look flimsy, undercutting escapism. And physics-defying sequences meant to stun give way to visual fatigue since digital wizardry denies weight and consequences needed to ratchet up stakes.
It’s a classic case of all frosting, no cake. The mansion looks spectacular from curbside. But interior design disappoints upon closer inspection. For all the surface-level razzle dazzle, Argylle lacks attention to detail where it counts.
As with the film’s thematic ambitions, technical execution dazzles superficially without deeper substance to back it up. Stellar production values sadly amount to little more than expensive wrapping paper hiding a recycled spy flick grab bag. Argylle wants to give us cinematic cake but only spoons out empty calories.
Bryce Dallas Howard proves an endearing anchor as author-turned-action protagonist Elly Conway. She sells grounded empathy and fish-out-of-water tension once bullets start flying. And Howard flexes admirable range as Elly channels trauma into late-breaking resilience. But Rockwell walks away with the film by fully committing to controlled chaos as rumpled spy Aidan. His livens up scenes with jolts of humor and unpredictable energy. Of the ensemble, only Rockwell emerges with clearly defined charisma and dimension.
Other performers struggle, hamstrung by superficial writing. Talented stars shine best in diamonds, not rhinestones. Yet here, heavy hitters like Bryan Cranston and Catherine O’Hara only get to hint at possibilities within thinly-sketched roles. Cranston has played this type of villain before with more complexity. And O’Hara brings such reliably sharp comic timing that she deserves better dialogue.
Similar issues plague the supporting cast, who mostly feel like placeholders lining up for perfunctory plot twists. DeBose, Cena, Jackson, Lipa and other briefly glimpsed famous faces get drowned out by chaotic plotting when they should add texture.
In the end, Howard’s relatable presence combines with Rockwell’s loosey-goosey magnetism to lift scenes further than the material permits. But for most of the rest, it’s tough for talent to shine when performances play second fiddle to haphazard storytelling. These artists all deserve deeper creative canvases for their gifts. Within the messy whole of Argylle, only two faces leave a lasting impression.
Argylle Review: Closing Thoughts
Argylle delivers neither thrilling action nor comedic originality to fully satisfy despite abundant potential. What begins as a clever nested spy world concept crumbles under the weight of recycled plot threads we’ve seen handled with more imagination elsewhere.
It’s a classic case of terrific actors stranded without the substance to support their talents. Howard and Rockwell alone provide glimmers of charm that might have left a warmer impression in a less overproduced film. Their chemistry offers breezy appeal for those partial to spy escapism by the numbers.
But mediocre plotting doused in CGI wizardry makes Argylle forgettable as either straight-up adventure or genre satire. And bloated runtime diminishes returns when repetitive action scenes expose the story’s hollow core.
Diehard genre fans may extract mild enjoyment from a few standout moments like the nightclub opener or theatrical shootout. But for casual viewers seeking more resonance, this twisty spy ride ends up lost in its own convolutions.
Argylle overpromises and underdelivers despite no shortage of surface-level flash. Sloppy execution ultimately betrays a one-gimmick premise that demanded tighter scripting and conceptual clarity to work. It’s a swing and a miss for Vaughn that squanders abundant talent on an unfinished idea.
Argylle tries to have fun tearing down and building up spy thriller tropes, but messy plotting, inconsistent tone and a lack of narrative focus betray a one-gimmick film that fails to fully engage despite immense talent involved.
- Clever concept and initial setup
- Bryce Dallas Howard is believable and endearing lead
- Sam Rockwell brings personality and charisma
- Couple of standout action sequences
- Frequent twists keep viewers guessing
- Chaotic plot becomes repetitive and overwhelming
- Poor character development beyond the two leads
- Uneven tone between serious and silly
- Overlong runtime of over 2 hours
- CGI and visual effects look fake and unrealistic