Argylle, the latest from more-is-more director Matthew Vaughn (The Kingsman), is the kind of overkill action-comedy extravaganza expected from the guy who broke out in 2010 with Kick-Ass. Starring a host of big names like Henry Cavill, Bryce Dallas Howard, Samuel L. Jackson, and, for some reason, pop star Dua Lupia, the story is muddled in spots but nevertheless, you won’t be bored. The tale of a spy novel author who gets involved in real-world espionage knows when to have its tongue firmly in cheek. Underneath the glossy sheen and spectacle are solid observations on memory, anxiety and gaslighting. And the cat rules.
Just as Elly Conway (Howard) is finishing up her fifth book in the “Argylle” series, writer’s block takes hold over the last chapter. As her mom (Catherine O’Hara) argues, Elly’s ending isn’t a cliffhanger, it’s a copout. To her fans and in her own mind, Argylle (Cavill) looks like Superman with a buzzcut. The opening scene, which involves Dua Lipa in a fancy dress on a motorcycle, is campy fun. Immediately, we know this is fiction, not reality. Still, even with impressive fireworks, Cavill’s handsome features, and a stunning Hong Kong backdrop, Elly can’t quite figure out how to wrap things up. That’s because the script by Jason Fuchs (Wonder Woman) is just getting started.
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Director Vaughn excels at action and comedy hybrids. Having Sam Rockwell as a real spy, Aiden, who aims to help Elly survive endless hordes of baddies, balances both verbal and physical sparring perfectly. Rockwell brings plenty of shaggy dog charm to the role. Like 2022’s similarly plotted The Lost City, starring Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, the chemistry between Rockwell and Howard is on point. Even if that point is the tip of a bullet to the heart. From a fight on a train to a gorgeously cloud-colored third-act shootout involving as much dancing as guns, being absurd is just as vital as feeling real. And all of it staged with elegance and wit.
Casting is key here as stars like Bryan Cranston and Ariana DeBose have fun with their surprisingly dynamic parts. The heart of Argylle is, of course, Bryce Dallas Howard. An actor who’s known onscreen (Jurassic World) as well as off (she’s directed numerous episodes of The Mandalorian), her range is well utilized. She can play timid, out of her element in one moment, and brazenly strong to defend her cat Alfie the next. (Who, as stated earlier, rules.)
Speaking of Alfie, it’s a clever stroke of ingenuity to have the brave feline housed in an appropriately decorated cat backpack through most of the run time. Getting cats to “act” on command is notoriously tough. Seeing his expressions through a clear spherical window does the job. Only a monster would wish harm, so yes, keep the Alfie safe!
Having Elly lug her backpack also does well as metaphorical emotional luggage. She might not understand why people are trying to kill her, but something is definitely poking at her internally. I won’t give away the plot twist, but just know Fuchs’ script (sadly, Taylor Swift didn’t write it) does plenty to justify its existence. In fact, the big reveal leads to some of the best scenes in the film, including an ice capade on oil. You read that right.
From a production standpoint, there’s plenty of eye candy for the big screen. The scenic locales of London by cinematographer George Richmond (who shot another spy caper — Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) feel authentic when necessary and fantastical when required. Similarly, the costumes by Stephanie Collie (Silent Night), in some instances, do all the heavy lifting, informing the viewer on what is or is not real.
Argylle’s most considerable feat, however, is much more subtle. At its heart, while we’ve seen plenty of spy flicks that get mileage out of the lead character’s headspace, Elly Conway is a strong stand-in for the kind of social anxiety many endure in the modern world. We might not be best-selling authors or spies in a killer tux, but everyone knows the feeling of being pulled apart mentally by the outside world. Be they strangers or family, the world, according to Argylle, is scary and deadly, but also worth living through.