One of the most intriguing aspects about Argylle is the peculiar rumor that the author of the book — which was released less than a month prior to the movie yet is billed as “the book that inspired the major motion picture” — is actually Taylor Swift. First time author “Elly Conway” has been shrouded in mystery, and while I don’t understand how the Swift connection came to be, I justify it by saying it’s 2024 and there is no bigger celebrity on the face of the Earth at the moment. So, it must be the same woman who bills herself as “the problem” in one of her newest songs.
Similarly, Argylle, the Matthew Vaughn-directed movie, is littered with problems. It’s supposed to kickstart a new franchise adjacent to Vaughn’s Kingsman movies, which I quite enjoyed. The first two films served as sort of a pop art pastiche of spy conventions that were bolstered by their committed cast, giddy absurdism, and the welcomed self-awareness that prevented them from getting too stuffy and serious like many works of the genre. Argylle, on the other hand, is significantly less fun. Yet another movie concerned with setting up future installments instead of being focused on making the first one worthwhile enough to warrant sequels, it doesn’t come close to erecting the chemistry amongst its cast nor the snappy humor of the universe to which it wants to belong.
The bizarre anonymity of the novel’s author is only one of several strange elements in Argylle, which stars Bryce Dallas Howard as the meek author Elly Conway. A loner who has penned a wildly successful espionage series of the same name, she’s no less content to a life spent in her PJs being a dutiful cat mom to Alfie (Chip the Cat), the most adorable on-screen animal since the late Uggie in The Artist. While on a train to visit her parents, Elly meets Aidan (Sam Rockwell), a spy who informs her the stories of her books are true and there are people who are trying to kill her.
Discussing the plot further runs the risk of revealing too much because Vaughn and screenwriter Jason Fuchs invite about a dozen red herrings and plot-twists into the mix. The character of Argylle, from Elly’s book, occasionally pops up on-screen (played by Henry Cavill with a distracting Johnny Bravo-esque haircut). Vaughn does a shockingly poor job at distinguishing reality from literary fiction, with no better example than the aforementioned train encounter between Elly and Aidan. Aidan starts murdering goons one by one, but flickering edits that alternate between showing Aidan and Cavill’s Argylle as the one carrying out the attacks distract more than they enthrall.
While by definition Argylle is an ensemble picture, the film really boils down to Howard, Rockwell, Catherine O’Hara, and Bryan Cranston (the latter two playing Elly’s parents). Cavill, John Cena, and Ariana DeBose (West Side Story) populate the opening scene, giving the false pretense that their arc will be juxtaposed into the narrative. Samuel L. Jackson turns up for what amounts to an extended cameo. During the film’s climax, he’s actually busy watching a Lakers game, if that’s not revealing in itself. You also have to stop and ponder how a movie could drain the charm and charisma out of Dua Lipa almost so effortlessly.
Argylle does boast a quality set-piece or two, which is par for the course even in Vaughn’s comparatively weaker films. The crown jewel of the film is when Elly and Aidan are storming a sanctuary with a Kingsman-supply of colorful smoke bombs that cause red, yellow, pink, and orange clouds to engulf around their enemies as they slaughter them. It’s completely nonsensical, but it’s a shot-to-the-arm for a film that is far too often bogged down by noisy chaos and convoluted exposition.
Where Kingsman was predicated upon the confidential group’s motto that “manners maketh man,” it’s ironic that Argylle feels ill-mannered. For us cat lovers, Vaughn’s film at least features a handful of moments with Alfie, that adorable feline. Per usual, I could’ve used more, but I’ll always laud a film that has respect for one of the least-respected animals in cinema. It’s not enough to rescue this mess. After a while, judging by Chip’s face, you get the feeling he’s resenting the humans that put him in this film in the first place.
NOTE: Argylle is now playing exclusively in theaters.
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Henry Cavill, Sofia Boutella, Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose, John Cena, Samuel L. Jackson, and Chip the Cat. Directed by: Matthew Vaughn.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!