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Argylle ★★

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Released: 1st February 2024

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Starring: Henry Cavill, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell

Reviewed By: Michael Evans

Launching a franchise isn’t easy. We see many fail in spectacular fashion – not everyone can be James Bond or the MCU. Matthew Vaughn has managed to do it twice. Launching both Kick-Ass and Kingsman into blockbuster franchises, garnering mass recognition. Even successfully revitalising Fox’s X-Men franchise along the way, after being put through the wringer. He’s a director that thrives in genre filmmaking, carving unlikely action stars out of prestige actors like Colin Firith and Ralph Fiennes.

He has this signature creative flare that runs through his filmography. We know what we’re getting from a Matthew Vaughn directed feature: great story, strong characters, impressive action, and a heck of a lot of fun. After the minor misstep of his Kingsman sequel, Vaughn is back with another potential franchise starter in Argylle; an action heavy spy romp that seems right up Vaughn’s usual creative street. Audiences already trust him, critics like him, and Hollywood favours him – so where did it all go wrong?

Argylle follows best-selling author Elly Conway (Bruce Dallas Howard), who writes espionage novels about a secret agent called Argylle (Henry Cavill), who is on a mission to unravel a global spy syndicate called the Division. However, when the plots of her books start to mirror a real-life spy organisation, the line between fiction and reality begin to blur. When catching the train to visit her mother (Catherine O’Hara), she meets real-life spy Aidan (Sam Rockwell) and learns that she is wanted by the Division for her insight as her novels are seemingly predicting the future. 

Unfortunately, Argylle is more Kingsman: The Golden Circle, than Kingsman: The Secret Service. It’s an overly silly and convoluted slog of a film, with some of the worst CGI put to screen for a major blockbuster. It’s a real shame that this misses the mark so widely, as it does have a stellar ensemble cast and an interesting premise. For audiences that are hoping to see Cavill as a Bond-like super spy – I suggest you go back and watch the excellent The Man from U.N.C.L.E, with him utilised sparingly here. Nobody really has the screentime to make an impression other than Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell, with much of the cast relegated to thankless cameos or existing entirely as a plot device.   

However, Vaughn has managed to do it again and crown another unlikely action star in Rockwell, who is truly the one bright spot of Argylle. This man has charisma in his veins – landing joke after joke and showing that he can do action just as well as the other major action superstars.  Bryce Dallas Howard is also somewhat impressive in this, but it’s nothing new from her unfortunately. She plays the part as well as she can factoring in the convoluted material she’s stuck with. The film’s biggest crime? Its criminal underuse of Ariana DeBose, who has such an incredibly small and throwaway role that you’re shocked and left wondering if a lot of her scenes were left on the cutting room floor.

Surprisingly, this film is rather low on action – well good action at least. Vaughn is a very competent and skilled action director (who could ever forget that wild Hit-Girl fight in the first Kick-Ass movie) but the action in Argylle is just so dull and hindered with horrifically distracting CGI. Maybe I’m being too harsh – there is certainly one great set piece, that being the initial fight on the train showcased heavily in the film’s marketing campaign. Nothing else really lives up to that promising sequence, which Vaughn really tries to replicate in exceedingly painful fashion. Speaking of the marketing campaign, it raised the question ‘Who is the real agent Argylle?’. The answer to this is probably the only twist that works, but even that is quite predictable once things get rolling.

Argylle is just reheated Kingsman leftovers (and not even the good one). A distinct lack of coherence and heavy reliance on twists makes the film feel incredibly lazy. Couple this with Kingsman: The Golden Circle, one must wonder if Vaughn may be regressing as a director. Not without its bright spots, particularly Rockwell’s lead performance and the train fight sequence. But overall, Argylle is a disappointingly bland endeavour.

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