The shape of the screen appears to contort into a large, arrogant grin for this excessively smug film from director Matthew Vaughn. It has the same level of depth as a men’s magazine cover photo: shallow, unconvincing acting, and a lackluster story with unimpressive cameos from the supporting cast. Argylle is a high-concept idea that is stuck in limbo, a bright and potential franchise piece that Vaughn is struggling to integrate into his existing work.
In the past, I have enjoyed this director’s bold and tasteless style, and it is not accurate to say that he is only capable of directing male-dominated films, as evidenced by Chloë Grace Moretz’s excellent performance in his superhero comedy Kick-Ass. However, in this film, he somehow managed to elicit a terrible lead performance from Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays spy novelist Elly Conway, whose characters closely resemble real people. Howard appears stiff, lifeless, and uncomfortable on screen, as if she is wearing glass lenses that hinder her ability to fully emote. This issue is not resolved or justified by the film’s big twist. Unfortunately, Vaughn and screenwriter Jason Fuchs failed to give this character any witty or engaging dialogue and did not find a satisfactory way to incorporate her into the convoluted plot and showcase her supposed duality as an action heroine. Although it was clever of Vaughn and Fuchs to release a novelization of the movie this month, supposedly written by “Elly Conway” herself.
The movie introduces us to a skilled secret agent named Argylle, portrayed by Henry Cavill with a charming British flair and a comical square haircut. He joins forces with his colleagues Wyatt (John Cena) and Keira (Ariana DeBose) to confront LaGrange, a seductive femme fatale assassin played by Dua Lipa. Alongside these action-packed scenes, we also get a glimpse into the more mundane life of Conway, a successful spy novelist who interacts with her devoted fans at book signings and works on her latest “Argylle” book while receiving feedback from her supportive mother, Ruth, played by Catherine O’Hara.
As she travels by train to visit her mother, a cheerful and unkempt man named Aidan (played by Sam Rockwell) sits down in the vacant seat across from her. He reveals that he is her biggest admirer and claims to be a professional spy. He also tells her that several powerful and intimidating individuals in his line of work are intrigued by her uncanny ability to foresee their actions. One of these individuals is Mr. Ritter (portrayed by Bryan Cranston), the leader of a rogue organization known as “The Division”.
This could theoretically be a fun movie, but it is all so self-conscious and self-admiring, with key action sequences rendered null and void by being played on two levels, the imaginary and the real, so cancelling each other out. The thought of Argylle 2 and Argylle 3 is very dispiriting. The books might do better.