|more for the Bond-style imaginings of the author Elly Conway than the unexpected twists and turns in her own Bourne-style life, with Matthew Vaughn's blend resulting in an uneven narrative that leaves you wishing you could read the book instead
|Bryce Dallas Howard, Henry Cavill, Sam Rockwell, Ariana DeBose, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Dua Lipa, Jason Fuchs, John Cena, Rob Delaney, Samuel L Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Stanley Morgan
|1st February 2024
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Spy novelist Elly Conroy (Bryce Dallas Howard) has just finished the fifth novel in her eponymous Argylle spy series about a Bond-style secret agent (Henry Cavill). She’s on the train to visit her mother Ruth (Catherine O’Hara), to discuss changes to the ending.
A bedraggled fan, Aidan Wilde (Sam Rockwell), coincidentally sits down opposite her – or perhaps it isn’t coincidental at all.
It turns out that undercover agents are trying to get her and Aidan is there to protect her.
The leader (Bryan Cranston) of an underground group of rogue agents, the Division, realises that the plots of her novels seem to mirror reality and wants to detain her to see whether she can uncover who’s been trying to expose their existence and dastardly plans.
Aidan has to stop the Division getting its hands on Elly long enough for her, and her cat, to travel to Europe, to find out why the plots of her books are so revealing.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Films about spies are about as common as films about authors. Meta films about authors in which their words are dramatised on screen are also hardly rare. So drawing these all together doesn’t make for the most original themes for a film.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Argylle is that it sets itself up as a true Bond-style spy adventure with a charming protagonist and a gang of eccentric comrades but soon makes it clear that the film isn’t about them at all, but an author, in another reality.
As the fantasy of the globe-trotting super-spy gives way to a tale of supposedly real-life intrigue, it loses some of its 007-style magic, although Sam Rockwell is always a bright presence that lifts any scene he’s in.
From the intricate and imaginative action sequences to the gadget-filled villain’s lair and the central character having no idea why an underground organisation is hunting her, this is very much Bond meets Bourne, by way of Matthew Vaughn, whose gaudy traits are very much visible – and audible – at every turn.
A slo-mo gunfight, choreographed to a thematically mismatched pop song, recalls Vaughn’s own Kick-Ass, providing a visual feast but – unlike Kick-Ass – takes you out of the moment.
And this is a common theme – scenes that are perfectly entertaining and original in their own right keep taking you out of the moment.
Vaughn’s slick direction keeps switching between the parallel narratives of what’s going on with Argylle in Elly’s books and similar situations in her own life – intercutting the two often drawing comparisons between what’s going on in her world and in her mind. But presenting more than one reality at a time leaves the audience feeling underserved – those who want Bourne keep getting a bit of Bond, while 007 enthusiasts will keep being interrupted by Mrs Bourne.
Using well known songs is clearly an oft-used short-hand technique to create the desired atmosphere, but there’s a peculiarly anachronistic use of the new Beatles song – a song that’s existed for only a couple of months, being treated as a golden oldie. It’s just a film – but it’s just one of the many elements which feel oddly jarring, another being a supposedly regular couple, making an unplanned visit to London, booking themselves into a suite at the Savoy – just like any other regular couple might? It often feels like this British director is thinking only about his American audience.
Vaughn uses a final-credit scene to set Argylle within the world he’s already created for his King’s Man franchise, which feels like him screaming out to his financiers that he wants to do a sequel or two.
The problem is that once the twist is revealed, you wonder where there is left to take the character.
Argylle is a piece of stylised fun – riffing off many familiar themes, while bursting with its own visual flair – but the story at its heart grows increasingly silly and decreasingly coherent – while its flitting between realities makes for an uneven delivery.