Matthew Vaughn’s New Film ‘Argylle’ Is Amusing, But Not Deep


Matthew Vaughn’s new film Argylle was a surprise for me. I had not planned to review it or even see it because of many negative reviews. But it has been the highest-grossing film in the country for several weeks, and I was curious. Let me be clear. This is not a great film. It is wildly derivative and hardly memorable. But it is also nonstop fun; a nice way to spend a couple of hours. It has plenty of action but it also a comedy that is generally funny.

Bestselling crime fiction author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) has written a series of books about a smooth, sexy secret agent (played in her fantasies by Henry Cavill) who out-Bonds James Bonds. Her overly intrusive mom (Catherine O’Hara) browbeats her over the ending of an upcoming book, so she gets on a train with her trusty companion cat Alfie to visit. She’s taking the train because she’s scared of flying. Actually, she’s scared of just about everything. A bearded, obnoxious guy sits across from her and tells her everyone else on the train wants to kill her. And it seems they do. The guy (Sam Rockwell) in a series of stylized battles wipes out dozens of agents and takes Elly by grabbing her and parachuting off the train while on a suspension bridge.

It seems Elly is writing spy fiction that turns into reality, and an evil organization headed by a nasty villain (Bryan Cranston) wants to get its hands on her. This leads to a chase through London, France and Arabia before things get settled. But things are not all that simple. People are never quite who they seem, they change sides, they say and do outrageous things. Vaughn states things using all sorts of colors, music and even dancing to ham up the story. Just when you think you know what’s happening, there is another twist. The twists, however, provide the fun. The fighting choreography was far more effective when I saw The Beekeeper.

Howard is very good in the lead. Her timing is impeccable. Also, it is a pleasure to have in the lead a woman who is not only likable but intelligent and also feminine. She is not girlish; she is past that, but is able to handle romance, fighting and comedy equally well. And, happily, the script by Jason Fuchs allows her to really create a complex character. Rockwell is equally good. To make the plot work, the relationship between the two has to be complex. At different times she fears him, hates him, likes him, and often doesn’t trust or understand him. And Rockwell, a really fine actor, plays him well. To add to the confusion, Elly sometimes sees Cavill’s Argylle doing the things that Rockwell’s Aiden actually is doing. At times it is amusing.

The supporting cast is very good. Cranston and O’Hara steal most of the scenes they are in, not all that difficult when they seem to be playing different parts at different times. Samuel L. Jackson in a far too small role is excellent as the man determined to take down the bad guys. And Dua Lipa is excellent in another small part as a spy taking on Argylle as part of Elly’s stories.

The story is flashy and fun, but some of the bits are wildly derivative, which pulls us away from the story. As in the Kingsman movies, everything is over the top. And when everything seems to be screamed, it is difficult to appreciate any quiet moments. And some of the elements seem wasted. A series of scenes in London could have been done as easily anywhere. The farmhouse in France could have been in California.

Another problem is that there are so many fighting scenes that after a while they start to blend. And the main plot is the usual: missing information that only the lead and no one else can locate. And, of course, the lead somehow finds what’s important even though all the experts have failed.

Still the film has enough fun and good points, to please most people. No thinking involved. Lots of action. A talented, charming cast. Enough twists and turns in the plot to give serial whiplash. And, of course, nothing in it can be taken seriously.

But we have not had a movie that was essentially just for fun for a long time. So if you simply want to lean back and scarf down some popcorn while simply enjoying a movie, this one just might be for you.