By Elias Savada.
An incredibly overproduced, over-CGI’ed Universal release.”
Even before its release, rumors were frantically flying all over the internet that the only recently published “inspired by” source novel (released January 9th) for Argylle (released February 2nd), the latest film from producer-director-writer Matthew Vaughn, was written not by Elly Conway (also the name of the author character played in the film by Bryce Dallas Howard), but by Taylor Swift.
It wasn’t, and it shows. But, hey, nothing like a little intrigue to try and get folks into the multiplex.
The screenplay, as Tartan, was registered for copyright in 2021, and has been known under several other titles, including Thomas Quinn, Argyle, Codename: Argyle, and its release moniker. Onscreen, the script is attributed to Jason Fuchs (Wonder Woman), while Marv Quinn Productions Limited (Vaughn’s outfit, which claimed the script’s copyright) is one the film’s producers (as MARV). As for Elly Conway, she has no copyright filings in her name. Meanwhile, Swift, who has Super Bowl rumors aplenty as well, was brought into the gossip fire because of hair color references and the Scottish Fold breed of cat that gets plenty of screen time, mostly in a plastic bubble backpack carted about by Elly from one dangerous encounter to the next. T-Swizzle owns two of the scrunchy-faced critters, as does Vaughn’s wife, supermodel Claudia Schiffer, and that’s the one seen in the film. So, connect the misdirecting dots and violà! I’ll let you do more sleuthing (if you care), but if Tay had been involved, I suspect this would have been a much better movie. And she could have added a song or two to replace the soundtrack’s overused Beatles song Now and Then.
So, getting back to what’s slightly right and abundantly wrong with Argylle, it’s a overstuffed yet energetic fantasy espionage tale with tone-deaf direction. On the positive side, I’ve always been a fan of Sam Rockwell, and there’s nothing wrong with his performance, as Aidan, the man who saves Elly from hundreds of would-be killers.
Vaughn is no stranger to a good espionage thriller (the generally enjoyable Kingsman comedy franchise) and was the producer behind Guy Richie’s twisted and refreshingly stylized slapstick capers Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000), and a co-producer, co-writer, and director of the brutally effective Kick-Ass (2010).
Encased in a boldly unbelievable super-spy environment, then layered in weirdly choreographed, ultra-violent scenes, some painted with bright, primary-colored nuances, others with oily slickness.”
Premise-wise, it’s about a shy, unassuming author of several wildly popular best-selling novels that draw too many stares from the people she writes about. Fiction…or not. And it seems that Elly hasn’t a clue why an entire world of assassins are out to do her in.
While that story plays out, Vaughn visualizes numerous derring-do escapades involving the fictional Argylle (Henry Cavill). He’s painted as a debonair fellow who seemingly never stumbles and always escapes the hare-brained situations that Fuchs wrote up, and which Vaughn presents in one unbelievable sequence after another.
I could feel some trouble right up front. Argylle is surrounded by dozens of armed bad guys, their weapons trained on him in the center. Yet, how many of these are going to fire, miss their target, and kill their comrades on the other side of the circle? Well, Vaughn doesn’t show that part, but Cavilll must be bringing some super-human powers from his DC World to this globe-trotting picnic to escape without a scratch.
The plot thickens…a lot. Twist, turns, double twists and triple turns, and maybe other filmmaker deceptions abound as Vaughn presents his actors as pawns in a myriad of flashy, wacky chessboard set pieces. While Howard does her best as the damsel in distress, the filmmakers toss the rest of the cast into this overdressed salad. John Cena (too briefly) as Argylle’s best friend, Ariana DeBose and Dua Lipa (both even briefer), and blink-and-you’ll miss him Richard E. Grant — all in Elly’s fantasy side of the film). They’re quick and easy eye candy to get you into the theater. On the real-world side, Bryan Cranston dashes about as the head of The Division, home to the evil spies, Catherine O’Hara as Elly’s mom, and Samuel L. Jackson as former CIA deputy director Alfred Solomon.
For most the film, Aidan and Elly are on one exasperating run, stretching the film to an overlong 2¼ hours – with a kicker in the end credits, as if this needs a sequel!
Everyone’s too serious in this incredibly overproduced, over-CGI’ed Universal release, with Apple footing most of the nearly $200 million budget – better sell a bunch of its Vision Pro goggles to balance off this film’s losses. The film’s encased in a boldly unbelievable super-spy environment, then layered in weirdly choreographed, ultra-violent scenes, some painted with bright, primary-colored nuances, others with oily slickness. Then Lorne Balfe’s score bangs home the action, all ending in an unfunny heap of smarm. And Catherine O’Hara needed some of that missing humor.
Please pass the aspirin.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).