BY ALEX GILSTON FEBRUARY 6, 2024
Matthew Vaughn is at home within the action comedy genre, especially when the plot revolves around spies. So it’s no surprise that Vaughn took a liking to the unpublished spy thriller book Argylle - written by Elly Conway, a pseudonym that the real author hides behind - and when Apple TV+ swooped in with $200 million pounds it was bound for the big screen. Argylle is a loose adaptation of the book itself, with the marketing revolving around the mystery of who the real Agent Argylle is. Argylle is swamped with mystery - there are plot twists at every turn! - but you get the answer sheet right from the beginning.
Reclusive author Elly Conway writes best-selling espionage novels about a secret agent named Argylle who's on a mission to unravel a global spy syndicate. However, when the plots of her books start to mirror the covert actions of a real-life spy organization, the line between fiction and reality begin to blur.
Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) is an author releasing the fifth spy novel in her Argylle series. When she runs into real trouble she is saved by Aidan (Sam Rockwell), and from there is thrust into a world not unlike the one from her books. As she delves deeper into the seedy underground spy network the lines between the real world and her novel continue to blur.
Argylle isn’t a straight adaptation of the, now published, book of the same name. It’s more of a meta exercise, as it revolves around the protagonist Elly Conway traversing the world of her books in real life. It’s an interesting concept but it’s been done before and done better (any The Lost City fans in the house?). The narrative is over-reliant on plot twists, which would give you metaphorical whiplash if they weren’t all so blatantly obvious. The lack of mystery around these developments in the plot makes the whole affair unengaging. You’ll find yourself eye-rolling at the screen instead of holding your hand to your mouth and gasping. With Argylle being so bothered about landing these moments, the actual narrative gets pushed to the side. There aren’t any stakes, no real reason for the characters to go through what they’re going through, and no major wins at the end for the good guys. This, matched with the 140 minute runtime, leaves Argylle dragging its feet.
The world of Elly’s book is presented on a slightly more fantastical level to her own. The opening scene of the film is a scene from the book playing out. Henry Cavill is (*cough* James Bond cough) Agent Argylle, and he’s joined by a whole host of faces including John Cena, Dua Lipa, and Ariana DeBose. It would be great to sit here and say that at least this world distinguished from the main plot is fun, to an extent it is. There is an interesting dynamic between them but the shoddy CGI and pacing sucks all the charm out of these moments.
One of Argylle’s saving graces is the chemistry between Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell. You can tell they’re both having a great time, especially Rockwell, and their performances mirror that. They believe in the silliness even if you’re struggling which helps chug it all along. But even their on-screen relationship can’t save the most dumbfounding sequence in the entire film. Elly and Aidan use multi-coloured smoke bombs to fight their way through a hoard of bad guys, with the most jarringly placed needle drop in a film in recent memory. Leona Lewis has contributed some great songs to the film canon - specifically "I See You" from James Cameron’s Avatar - but her song "Run" is tonally misplaced.
Overall Argylle is a mess. You might get a kick out of the first thirty minutes but when it starts weaving its twisty web all sense and coherence is lost. A very expensive experiment considering how forgettable it will end up being.