Unless you have spent every waking hour of your life on the internet, you’ll probably be unaware of the “Who is the real Agent Argylle?” memes and the intense hatred that has developed for the movie, largely due to the underwhelming trailer which was played before every theatrical release in the USA. On top of that, folks felt that Matthew Vaughn wasn’t showing any signs of improvement. The man had once given us films like Kingsman: The Secret Service, Layer Cake, and X-Men: First Class. But the last two films of the Kingsman franchise absolutely killed any goodwill that he had earned. So, people were ready to bash the living hell out of the film as soon as it came out, and to a certain extent, they have already. What do I think? It’s not as bad as it seems, but it’s not as good as Vaughn’s previous ventures.
Matthew Vaughn’s Argylle, which has been written by Jason Fuchs, opens with Agent Aubrey Argylle going on a mission with his colleagues Wyatt and Keira to nab LaGrange. Things go sideways; Keira apparently dies, and Argylle wreaks havoc all over Greece to catch LaGrange. That’s when Argylle and Wyatt learn something crucial about Fowler, their boss, from LaGrange, which apparently causes them to go rogue. That’s when it is revealed that Argylle’s whole world is actually a figment of Elly Conway’s imagination. She lives an introverted life with her cat, Aflie. She mostly converses with her mother, Ruth, who is her greatest critic and advisor. And she spends every second working on her Argylle books. When Ruth says the ending of her latest book isn’t really good, Elly decides to give her a visit and partake in a brainstorming session. However, she is both rescued and kidnapped by a spy named Aidan, who claims that Elly is being pursued by a dangerous organization known as the Division because of the skills she has acquired by doing years of research for the Argylle franchise. And Aidan thinks that she can lead him to something called the “Masterkey” before the Division does.
As mentioned in the title, Argylle is an overcomplicated rehash of The Long Kiss Goodnight. I say that because Shane Black’s script had a pretty straightforward plot and hinged on one good twist. Meanwhile, Jason Fuchs unloaded a plethora of twists all the way to the end. Now, given that I don’t have first-hand access to the details of Fuchs’ writing process, I have to assume that Fuchs and Vaughn were aware of the similarities with The Long Kiss Goodnight. I mean, that’s why they made Bryce Dallas Howard go blonde after spending a major chunk of the running time as a redhead and cast Samuel L. Jackson, too, right? Or did they throw a twist on the screen every other second because they hoped that it’d overwhelm the audience and they wouldn’t notice that they were watching a retread of The Long Kiss Goodnight? Well, either way, Jason Fuchs’ narrative doesn’t really have anything new to offer while his commentary on the art of writing, distancing oneself from reality as a coping mechanism, the corruption coursing through intelligence agencies and spy organizations, free will versus one’s sense of duty, animal care, and, I suppose, the environmental damage being caused by oil tankers is too vague. The Long Kiss Goodnight, though, is much more explicit about what it wants to say about America. So, if you have to choose between the two for the plot, maybe go for the underrated Renny Harlin Christmas classic.
Vaughn more than makes up for the flaws in the script with his visual flair. Throughout the first two acts, Elly keeps imagining that she is watching Argylle in action every time she looks at Aidan doing some of the most insane tricks and flips, and the switching between Argylle and Aidan is surprisingly seamless. All of those scenes feature several members of the stunt team, Henry Cavill, Sam Rockwell, Cavill’s double, and Rockwell’s doubles. They have to be done and redone multiple times from the same camera angles so that they can be stitched together without making the visual experience jarring. And the final product is great. The two sequences that made me forgive the shortcomings of the film were the smoke bomb “Whirlybird” hallway shootout and the oil spill skating massacre. The shootout was essentially an extension of the Kingsman hallway shootout, and the patterns, the music, and the choreography were really excellent. I knew that as soon as the oil started spilling all over the floor, Argylle was going down the Transporter route (you know, the scene where Jason Statham slathered himself with oil and fought goons). But I couldn’t have guessed that Vaughn was going to use knives for skates, even if I was given a million chances to predict the outcome. It was absurdly delightful, and I wish the entire movie was as whacky as those two back-to-back action sequences.
The performances from the central cast of Argylle are alright. Bryce Dallas Howard has always given it her all, and it seems like she is going to maintain that level of commitment until the day she retires, regardless of how bonkers the project is. She absolutely swings for the fences and makes sure that even when you aren’t in her POV, you are in Elly’s shoes, trying to make sense of the crazy events that are unfolding before her eyes. Sam Rockwell is amazing. This is another actor who is probably incapable of delivering a bad performance. And for that reason alone, he should appear in every film. He is so charismatic, so cool, and so brilliant. Sam Rockwell is awesome. Apart from these two, everyone else’s screen time is limited, or the roles aren’t all that impactful. Bryan Cranston and Catherine O’Hara are okay. Henry Cavill is pretty suave, despite that eye-catching hairdo. John Cena and Ariana DeBose are decent. Samuel L. Jackson isn’t utilized properly at all. It’s a shame that Sofia Boutella just gets a simple dialogue scene in a Matthew Vaughn film and not an all-out fight sequence after Matthew Vaughn put her on the action genre map with Kingsman. Dua Lipa is fine. Richard E. Grant has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Chip, the cat who plays Alfie, and its digital double definitely do a lot of the heavy lifting. So, kudos to Chip for giving us one of the best cat performances of all time.
Argylle would’ve been a forgettable affair if it didn’t have the smoke bomb hallway shootout and the oil spill skating massacre. It’s actually a matter of shame that the movie built around those setpieces isn’t nearly as good as those two sequences. If it did, I am pretty sure this would’ve been as monumental as Vaughn’s pre-The Golden Circle work. Is it one of the worst movies of the year? Absolutely not. It’s an aggressively average movie because of the shoddy pacing, the inconsistent VFX and CGI, and a story that we’ve seen a hundred times already. With the exception of those two action scenes (which I know I have brought up way too many times), the film isn’t all that interesting. If you sit through the mid-credits, you’ll see Vaughn desperately trying to nostalgia-bait you by connecting Argylle to the Kingsman franchise. I don’t know who is going to fall for it. I certainly didn’t. I just hope that Vaughn finds his groove again and starts making films that’ll define the genre instead of being played in the background on Apple TV+ while people do their daily chores.