Argylle Review: Stylish ensemble falls flat - SciFiNow

Argylle Review: Stylish ensemble falls flat

Matthew Vaughn’s spy caper tries to be everything and ends up a big nothing.


Audiences discovering Argylle off the back of its promotional materials would be forgiven for thinking Henry Cavill will be leading, heavily implied by the poster line-up and billing.

His character is actually a bit-player, a fictional secret agent created by novelist Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is struggling to find an ending for the latest book. Before she can conclude her spy saga, she’s pulled into a real-life plot involving a shadowy organisation trying to prevent their secrets being exposed. Why do they want her? Her books apparently accurately predict real-life events, and they need to know what comes next.

Coming to her rescue is Sam Rockwell as real-life spy Aiden, stealing the show and pulling double duty as both best dramatic and comedic actor in the film. The pair go on the run with only Elly’s cat Alfie and, unknown to Aiden, with Argylle too, in the form of visions/hallucination Elly has of her debonair creation, with whom she secretly converses and appears to be in love.

Director Matthew Vaughn is clearly a spy fan, with his Kingsman series giving the genre a shot in the arm. But efforts here fall badly short, with the opening exotic location action sequence aping Bond but with so much bad CGI that you can’t help but hanker for 007 doing it for real on Istanbul rooftops. The talented ensemble cast gets divided into either being given wads of exposition (Brian Cranston, Samual L. Jackson) or being criminally underused (Jing Lusi, Rob Delaney, Richard E. Grant).

Kingsman and Kick-Ass both found the right balance between comedy and action, while Argylle never seems sure what it wants to be. The opening act appears a meta-story about a spy writer fantasising about her creation. Scenes get chances to play out differently on her subsequent drafts, or freeze and melt away as they are deleted. It’s an imaginative device that’s then abandoned. The middle is a two-hander between an odd couple of spies on the run for their lives with a twist done better in The Long Kiss Goodnight. The finale strives for the same levels of kitsch fun in Vaughn’s other work but results in an assault on the senses that’s 30 minutes too long. The score does so much heavy lifting in the final act it’s likely to develop sciatica.

The supposed glamour of the international locations gets sucked away by the obvious composited backgrounds projected behind the actors. The editing and pace are deliberately breakneck, desperately keeping the audience one-step ahead of leaps of logic, plot holes and clunky exposition. Vaughn’s style is stamped all over, but there is so little substance that Argylle feels like a missed opportunity.

Argylle will be in cinemas on 2 February.