REVIEW: “Argylle” is Matthew Vaughn’s most convoluted and chaotic spy film yet

"Argylle" releases in theaters on February 2nd and will stream on Apple TV+ later this year.

Courtesy of IGN Nordic
Courtesy of IGN Nordic

Matthew Vaughn has developed a reputation for delivering over-the-top action sequences in his movies. Although he found stardom as a director for his films “Kick-Ass” and “X-Men: First Class,” it was the “Kingsman” franchise that made him a household name. “Argylle” is Vaughn’s latest entry into the spy genre, and it’s his most ambitious project to date.

The film follows Elly Conway, a best-selling author who writes a series of books about a secret agent named Argylle. One day, the plot of her beloved espionage stories begins to unfold in front of her as she is caught in a real-life spy mission. As chaos takes control of her life, she struggles to comprehend what is real or fake.

With “Argylle,” Vaughn yet again delivers high-quality action sequences. Vaughn’s ability to shoot the action in wide angles significantly improves the viewing experience as every jump, kick and punch is captured on full display. This method gives the audience an outside perspective of the scene while capturing every slight move from the characters, making the film feel massive in scale. 

Whether it's the church scene in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” or the “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” sequence in “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” Vaughn has crafted some of the most intricately choreographed action scenes in the 21st century. “Argylle” has two sequences that rival those scenes, one involving an oil spill and the other involving a dance number. These sequences are so ludicrous in nature that it’s impossible to keep your eyes off the screen. Not only are they shot well, but the choreography is so heavily detailed that it’s incredible they were able to pull it off. If there are any scenes that will stay with the viewer when the film ends, it’s these two. 

Although the characters are not extremely well-rounded, the actors are relentlessly entertaining to watch. Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Conway, brings warmth and innocence to her character that makes it easy to root for her. Even when her character has a drastic personality shift in the later parts of the film, she delivers on every level. 

The rest of the cast is equally excellent. Henry Cavill and John Cena do a great job at playing corny spy characters, delivering in terms of the action and the cheesy one-liners. They act similar to a James Bond character but have their little quirks to make them stand out. The big standout among the supporting characters is Sam Rockwell. Rockwell has an effortless charm that’s captivating from the first moment he appears on screen. He also proved himself to be a capable action star, fulfilling the role of a super spy out to save the world and keep Conway away from the antagonists. Rockwell’s chemistry with Howard is one of the many bright spots of the film. 

Although the central premise is easy to define, the film turns in many unpredictable directions. Movies can become more engaging with surprises, but “Argylle” uses this tactic to a fault. The film becomes extremely convoluted due to a plethora of twists in the story. Instead of enhancing the viewing experience, they come off as perplexing. Past decisions from characters are deemed pointless once specific reveals occur, which creates numerous plot holes. 

One of Vaughn’s other trademarks in his movies is the violence. In “Kick-Ass” and the “Kingsman” films, he proved that he knew how to deliver bloody violence that feels real while still being entertaining. “Argylle” is sadly limited to a PG-13 rating, which limits his capabilities as a director. The action scenes do not deliver the same level of violence as well as his prior films, despite being well-shot and choreographed. Instead of showing the killings explicitly, most deaths are shown off-screen. If this film were rated R, the viewing experience would have been improved immensely.

The visual effects can be spotty in certain instances. Although the green-screen work is well done for the most part, there are some instances where CGI is used improperly. One of the central characters, a cat named Alfie, is CGI instead of a real cat, which makes the scenes feel unrealistic. The movement of the cat is too fluid to feel genuine and the blend between the real sets was noticeably poor. This character would have worked much better if the movie used a real cat.

It is easy to point out the inconsistencies and over-the-top nature of “Argylle,” but it works overall due to the commitment of the actors and Vaughn’s maximalist directing style. The premise may feel derivative of other films in the spy genre, but the film offers enough entertainment and surprises to keep the viewer engaged from start to finish. It may not be as strong as Vaughn’s other projects, but it's still a good time at the movies.

Trevor Stucker (he/him) is a sophomore majoring in Applied Film and Journalism. This is his second year writing for The Campus Citizen.

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