Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews Argylle

Josh Reviews Argylle

As Argylle opens, we’re introduced to super-spy Aubrey Argylle (Henry Cavill), a classic sixties-era Bond-style super-spy.  He’s on the trail of the femme fatale villainess LaGrange (Dua Lipa), assisted by his sidekick Wyatt (John Cena).  But after a rollicking opening action sequence, we discover that Argylle is just the creation of author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is putting the finishing touches on her fifth popular Argylle novel.  Her happy life as a popular author is interrupted when a train ride turns into chaos: people are trying to kill her!  It’s like a scene out of one of her novels!  She’s rescued by a real-life spy, Aidan Wylde (Sam Rockwell), who reveals that somehow in inventing spy-plots for her novels she’s accidentally stumbled upon an actual spy-agency turned evil, and now these evil spies want her out of the way.

I liked Argylle, though I didn’t love it the way I wanted to.  I love the idea of Argylle as a souped-up version of a fun ’60’s era James Bond adventurer, and we get some fun sequences, but the film never quite becomes the rip-roaring, globe-trotting adventure I’d hoped it would.  At the same time, the film is fun and silly, but it never quite clicked in for me as a great comedy.  The film has a spectacular cast, and each new character is fun to see, but I never cared as much about any of these characters as I needed to in order to really connect to the movie.

I’ve always been a big fan of director Matthew Vaughn.  I really like almost all of his films, and I’m always excited when he has a new film coming out.   But in thinking about my lukewarm feelings about Argylle, it’s interesting for me to look back on his films and see that, time and again, he’s made films that I’ve liked but haven’t loved.  Mr. Vaughn always seems to make films whose concept is awesome, and seems to be right up my alley; and yet in the end, often I feel that there’s something about his films doesn’t quite hit what I’m looking for.  Layer Cake is amazing (it’s my second-favorite of Mr. Vaughn’s films), and I love every second of it right up until the final minute, which I hate.  Stardust is an adaptation of a wonderful Neil Gaiman story; I applaud Mr. Vaughn’s bold ambition to craft a fun, feisty, modern fairy-tale, but for me the film’s reach exceeds its grasp.  Mr. Vaughn just didn’t have the resources to bring this story to life on the scale it wanted.  Kick-Ass is magnificent; it’s my favorite of his films, a bold, ahead-of-its-time R-rated super-hero adventure (adapted from a wonderful comic-book by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.).  X-Men: First Class is also very, very good, a wonderful reinvention of Bryan Singer’s X-Men films.  There are some strange choices and the villains don’t quite pop the way they should, but it’s very strong.  Kingsman: The Secret Service is another adaptation of a Mark Millar comic.  As does Argylle, it borrows iconography from classic 1960’s James Bond super-spy stories, which makes me very happy to see.  The film has some great sequences, but as with Argylle, I felt it never quite clicked into being the gonzo super-spy story I wanted.  The story was more convoluted than it needed to be, and while the cast was great I didn’t care enough about the characters.  I was excited to see Mr. Vaughn take another whack at that concept with the sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle, but while here again the film had a terrific cast and lots of great moments, I thought it had similar flaws to the first one.  To my surprise, I liked the third Kingsman film, the prequel The King’s Man, the best — I think that was an underrated WWII-era adventure film, filled with Mr. Vaughn’s usual touches of weird comedy and over-the-top action sequences.  It wasn’t perfect; I still felt the story was a bit too convoluted, and the villain didn’t work for me at all, but I enjoyed the film a lot.

I’ve enjoyed ALL those movies I’ve just listed!!  They’re all well-made.  I like Mr. Vaughn’s just slightly outside the mainstream tastes.  He’s always pushing the envelope of what he can create with his modestly-budgeted films, and he always assembles a terrific cast that’s ready to play.  And yet at the same time, I think there are aspects of the tone and style of storytelling that Mr. Vaughn employs in his films that often seems to just slightly miss the mark of what I’m looking for.

Argylle is filled with wonderful sequences!  I loved the opening Bond-like Argylle scene, which includes a crazy dance number with Dua Lipa’s villainess LaGrange.  (Great name for a villain.)  I thought the fight on the train, when Elly meets Aidan for the first time, was terrific.  The crazy ballad-like colorful smoke fight in the third act, in which Elly and Sam take on innumerable goons, was both hilarious and beautiful.

The cast, across the board, is terrific.  Bryce Dallas Howard is wonderful as Elly.  She’s perfect as an every-woman-type author in over her head, and she’s also terrific fun to see in the second half as she starts getting into all the spy-game stuff.  Ms. Howard has a naturalism that is compelling and draws the audience into following her story and rooting for her.  (We shouldn’t be talking about people’s bodies here in 2024, but let me take a moment to applaud the fact that Ms. Howard appears in the film as a beautiful and, at the same time, normally-proportioned human woman, rather than as the usual type of movie-star rail-thin super-model.  Even better than that, the film never once makes a comment or joke about Ms. Howard’s body.  She’s just treated as a beautiful woman, especially when she gets to don a sleek gown in the third act.  Bravo to Mr. Vaughn and his team for this.  It’s still shockingly progressive, despite this being the year 2024.). Ms. Howard has become a terrific director of late (she’s done great work directing episodes of The Mandalorian); it’s fun to see her acting again.

I fell in love with Sam Rockwell when watching Galaxy Quest, and it’s always a thrill to see him in a major role.  He’s a pleasure as the fast-talking super-spy Aidan.  He has great chemistry with Bryce Dallas Howard’s Elly.  I loved all of their scenes together.  Henry Cavill (Man of Steel, Mission: Impossible — Fallout) is perfectly cast as the super-tough, super-suave spy Argylle.  Despite (because of?) his ridiculous haircut, he commands the screen whenever he appears.  I wish John Cena (Trainwreck, Peacemaker) was in more of the movie, but he’s great in every moment as Argylle’s sidekick.  Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, All The Way, Asteroid City) chews up every inch of the scenery, but he’s a pleasure to watch every second he does so, as the villainous Ritter, head of the evil “Division”.  Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice, A Mighty Wind, Schitt’s Creek) steals scenes left and right as Elly’s domineering mother.  Samuel L. Jackson (returning to Mr. Vaughn’s stable of actors after his fun role as the villain in the first Kingsman film) looks like he’s having a lot of fun as the good-guy spy boss Alfie, and Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service; Star Trek Beyond; Fahrenheit 451; Rebel Moon Part One: Child of Fire) is great in her few scenes as the keeper-of-secrets Saba Al-Badr.  Ariana DeBose (West Side Story) is solid in a small role of spy side-kick Keira.  Rob Delaney (Catastrophe) and Richard E. Grant (Gosford Park, Loki) are both fun to see in small cameos.  (I wish we saw more of them!)

I like every one of those actors listed above, and they each play a fun and interesting character in the film.  And yet, as I look back on the film, I feel like I didn’t really get to know any of these characters.  The film never really allows us to explore any of these characters, to get to know or care about them in any significant way.  As a result, I felt like I was kept at something of a distance from the film, never really engaging with these characters — and, therefore, the film’s story — as deeply as I’d hoped.

While I enjoyed the film’s twisty-turny story on a plot level, those twists and turns didn’t land with the impact I think the filmmakers wanted them to, because I didn’t care enough about the characters.  And so, as we entered the third act, I found myself getting somewhat impatient.  It doesn’t help that, as I’d commented above about all of the Kingsman films, I felt Argylle was a little too long and the story a little too convoluted.  I’d commented above that I loved the truly strange, wonderful dance-like fight in the colorful smoke in the third act.  And then, less than five minutes later, we get another outlandish, dance-like fight sequence: the skating battle in the oil.  Both sequences were great; clever and well-executed.  But it felt like “too much of a muchness” to me; the impact of the oil-fight was diluted by the great and similarly weird smoke-fight we’d just gotten a few minutes earlier.

(The film escalates into master-level incomprehensibility in the mid-credits sequence, which advertises a sequel that will adapt Argylle: Book One.  I’m not sure what that even means — does that suggest that Mr. Vaughn wants to do a more “straight” adaptation of one of Elly Conway’s fictional Argylle books?  What would that even look like?  (Sub-note: despite the promotional silliness in which Mr. Vaughn & co. suggested that there is a real-life Elly Conway who actually wrote an Argylle novel that this film was based on… and despite the even weirder internet suggestion that author Elly Conway is actually Taylor Swift… this is all clearly made up for the film.)  That scene takes place in a pub called The Kingsman… was that just a joke or was Mr. Vaughn suggesting that this film takes place in the same universe as his Kingsman films??  I was left scratching my head after watching this final scene.  It’s all probably moot, as Argylle has not performed well at the box-office, so any sequel seems unlikely.  Still, even had Argylle performed well, I don’t understand the choice to end the film which such a confusing sort-of-half-tease, as opposed to something that might have left the audience more jazzed to see where this story could go from here…)

I had fun watching Argylle; there’s definitely a lot to enjoy.  But the film just never quite clicked for me.

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