Matthew Vaughn's latest is a qualified mess
Matthew Vaugh is one of the more bold and visually assured directors working within the studio system. Coming up as a filmmaker with Guy Ritchie in the early 2000s, he’s spun out to be a consistent crafter of action comedies. This helped launch his Kingsman franchise, and is lent to his latest spy film, Argylle (2024).
Argylle is the story of the author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas-Howard), who pens the famous spy novels “Argylle.” These follow the eponymous spy (played by Henry Cavill in brainstorming scenes) on his adventures. However, Elly’s stories seem to be emulating and even predicting real-life covert plots. As a result, she becomes the objective of an evil spy syndicate (embodied by Bryan Cranston), while a rogue spy (Sam Rockwell) attempts to save her.
Elly Conway is a real author of a series of real “Argylle” spy books. However, no one knows her identity, with absurd rumors percolating as to who is behind the pseudonym (is it Taylor Swift’s penname?). Vaughn and screenwriter Jason Fuchs choose to take on a curious adaptation of author and idea instead of the source material itself. It’s a curious way of adapting IP, yet Fuchs’ ambition gets the better of him. Argylle is a convoluted spy comedy filled with an exasperating number of plot twists, to the point that one detaches from characters as they lose consistency. The plot itself is lazily constructed so that you’re left watching out for potential cameos than anything else.
Vaughn assembles an intermittent set of celebrities to pop in and out, from Dua Lipa and John Cena as book characters to Samuel L. Jackson and Ariana DeBose as flat and underused sidekicks. Vaughn’s direction could have livened Argylle with his visual fervor, but even this crumbles into a vapid stupor. The British director restrains his usually fluid action by covering it in a chaotic jumble of cuts and hiding it; using smoke to cover all of a climactic fight. A decision to have Elly see Sam Rockwell’s character switching with Henry Cavill’s (illustrating parallels between fiction and reality), is strung along to a tiring degree, and made action sequences confusing and disorienting. Argylle defaults to using CGI for every single element. From Elly’s cat to background locations using poorly rendered of green screens. Even action sequences seem to dismiss the good stunt work and instead go with a wobbly CGI take instead. Vaughn himself shows these poor visual effects in slow motion, so that viewers take an even closer look at the jangled, mid 2000s looks. This is even more surprising given the $200 price tag from Apple studios.
In the end, only the charisma from leads Dallas-Howard and Rockwell make Argylle digestible. The duo does an incredible amount of heavy lifting, selling their shallow characters and the disinteresting plot. Dallas-Howard is given a canvas with which to demonstrate a greater range than she’d been restrained to in the Jurassic World movies. Rockwell, meanwhile, exudes his effortless charm to electrify every scene he’s in; only when he’s absent does the film truly begin to sag under its faults.
In the end, Argylle is a misfire, the uncontrolled script and uninspired directing combine to create a messy result. The comical visual effects cheapen the aesthetic, and the two leads can only do so much to make this action comedy rise from unwatchable to merely forgettable.