Argylle: A Delightful, Espionage-Inflected Date Movie

Argylle: A Delightful, Espionage-Inflected Date Movie

When it comes to blockbuster cinema, Matthew Vaughn is something of an iconoclast. He has made movies that are generally well-liked and successful at the box office, but he also has a streak combining over-the-top violence, snarky parodying of genre, and sometimes just plain bad taste. Now, with his latest film, Argylle, he has created his gentlest film yet: a spy movie that is also directly aimed toward being a date movie. Add in an incredible cast and Vaughn’s signature flair for gonzo action sequences, and you have what was my most anticipated film of this year.

Argylle follows mousy spy novelist, Elly Conway, whose idea of excitement is curling up with her adorable cat, Alfie, and writing entries in her wildly popular book series about a gentleman spy named Argylle. However, when she decides to visit her mom so they can workshop her newest book, she bumps into a wild-haired mystery man named Aiden, who proclaims himself to be a spy. Soon, they are thrust into a journey together where they discover that an evil organization, known as The Division, is hunting her down due to her novels being so well-researched that they have begun to reveal high-level government secrets. In addition to all of this, the movie periodically cuts to the action happening in Elly’s Argylle novels, paralleling the events of the real world. That is all of the story I can talk about without delving into spoilers, as the twists start coming fairly early in the film. 

Going into the movie, there was a lot of hype around it, and some audience members who have seen it have really enjoyed it, even though it has not done as well critically or at the box office. Keller Matlock, an SNU student who saw the film, expressed that he had no idea what the movie was going into, only knowing that it was a spy film starring Henry Cavill. However, he said that even though it was not the film he was expecting, he “really enjoyed the movie still,” and was a particular fan of the high-energy action sequence on the train that switches back and forth between Cavill and another character fighting those coming after them. I can say with definite certainty that I greatly enjoyed this film as well.

The cast, as I mentioned, is a great collection of performers ranging from big marquee stars like Cavill and Samuel L. Jackson, to Oscar winners like Sam Rockwell and Ariana DeBose. However, some people seen in the trailers are hardly in the movie, such as Dua Lipa and John Cena, so if you are watching the movie for them, I recommend adjusting your expectations. Even Cavill, who plays the titular Argylle, is not in the movie much, but when he is, I find him to be wonderfully funny. The stars of the film are really Bryce Dallas Howard and Rockwell, and they are delightful, both together and separately. Howard is very good as she grows from withdrawn author to elegant superspy, and Rockwell particularly stands out, mixing his laid-back charisma with enough gravitas to make the more serious elements of the film work. In addition to them, Catherine O’Hara, a wonderful actress, gets to play some really fun notes as Elly’s mother, and Bryan Cranston has lots of fun playing a villain on the sillier end of the scale than someone like Walter White. 

Another thing that works in the film is its action scenes. Vaughn has proven himself to be an excellent director of action, but someone else that makes these scenes special is Brad Allan. Allan was Vaughn’s stunt choreographer before tragically passing away back in 2021, making this the last film he ever worked on. Having trained under Jackie Chan, he brought high energy and precision to all of his movies, whether it be the Kingsman films, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, or Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. With Allan being a crucial part of planning the action but gone before filming began, Vaughn worked to make this his big tribute to him, and I think he succeeded. From the aforementioned train sequence to a climactic scene involving skating, the movie pulls out all the stops with great choreography and direction. 

One action sequence in particular, which involves a lot of colorful smoke, left me laughing and cheering in euphoria at the insanity I was watching on screen, and I was not the only one. SNU student, Alayna Bryson, also loved this particular sequence, saying that it was set up as one kind of fight, but it ended up being a sequence of two characters dancing while fighting, and falling in love in the process, and that she “just couldn’t quit laughing.” I have a feeling that this sequence could be a fan favorite for those who are on the movie’s wavelength. 

Now, the film is not entirely perfect. As mentioned previously, the fact that some of these actors have barely anything to do in the film is a bummer, especially for Jackson and DeBose, who have been recognized by the Oscars for their work in other films. I also think the film runs about 20 minutes too long. There is quite a bit of the middle section that could be trimmed down to keep the pace up, it has one too many endings, as there is a final fight scene that felt extraneous to me. Finally, they use a lot of CGI across the movie in a way that I felt to be distracting. I recognize that some cartoonish CGI is a part of the Matthew Vaughn look, and the fact that this was filmed in 2021 probably means that COVID-19 measures prevented them from filming in all the different locations of this globe-trotting adventure. Not all of it looked bad, but there were definitely times when I noticed it. 

I understand that the tone Argylle strikes may not be for everyone, but it was something that I needed. As I said at the beginning of this review, filling this romantic comedy-influenced spy film with all of Vaughn’s craziness, but keeping the film more family-friendly to cater to his date movie aspirations, is something that I really liked. To anyone who may be taking a date to the movies, consider this one, because I think this is a ridiculous, over-the-top, sweet treat.


Photo by Felipe Bustillo from Unsplash