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Bloated “Argylle” Needs Trimming

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | February 1st, 2024

Argylle (Matthew Vaughn, 2024) 2½ out of 5 stars*

Overlong and overstuffed, Argylle nevertheless has enough enjoyable moments to sometimes help you forget the frequent mess within. Unfortunately, a mess it very much is, though it’s also occasionally good fun. With a top-notch cast and a few choice bon mots, there’s charm to spare. Perhaps that’s part of the problem. Clearly, the temptation to coast on charisma was too strong to resist.

That ensemble includes Sofia Boutella (Atomic Blonde), Henry Cavill (Netflix’s The Witcher series), John Cena (The Suicide Squad), Bryan Cranston (Asteroid City), Ariana DeBose (West Side Story), Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World: Dominion), Samuel L. Jackson (Glass), Catherine O’Hara (Pain Hustlers), Sam Rockwell (See How They Run), and one very cute (and put-upon) Scottish Fold cat named Alfie (real name: Chip). They form different groups at different times, all with decent-enough chemistry. Some of what they do holds our interest.

l-r: John Cena and Henry Cavill in ARGYLLE ©Apple Studios/Universal Pictures

The director is Matthew Vaughn, well-versed in espionage thrillers after his Kingsman series, with which this new film (and its hoped-for sequels) may one day intersect. Like those, Argylle sets out to combine comedy with suspense, to varying degrees of success. If only he had cut out this movie’s bloat, the formula might prove more winning.

After an opening—featuring Cavill, Cena, and DeBose, as well as pop singer Dua Lipa—that makes us think we are watching one kind of movie, Vaughn and screenwriter Jason Fuchs (I Still See You) switch things up with a clever transition. Thereafter, we discover that the spies we were just watching are actually all creations of an author named Elly Conway, played by Howard. She has just published the fourth book in her “Argylle” series, starring the titular secret agent, and is about to finish writing the fifth.

l-r: Bryce Dallas Howard and Chip in ARGYLLE ©Apple Studios/Universal Pictures

We then follow Elly—and her cat, who accompanies in a special feline travel backpack, decorated in yellow argyle—as they hop on a train to see her mother (O’Hara), which is when the film takes a turn for the (initially) delightfully bizarre. For who sits down in front of her? Aidan, a shaggy dude played by Rockwell, who warns of imminent danger. Split seconds later, the action is on.

The adrenaline and laughter flow equally as we attempt to decipher the why and the how of it all. Such questions fuel the cinematic pleasures, until eventually the jokes grow stale and nasty, including the appalling mistreatment of the cat. Cranston makes an appealing villain, and Jackson an equally agreeable opposite to him. Boutella, however, is woefully underutilized, stashed away somewhere on “the Arabian Peninsula” (as a ludicrously vague title card reads). Beyond the inadequate script, the most unforgivable aspect of Argylle is it’s cheap CGI, which appears created by generative AI.

Sam Rockwell in ARGYLLE ©Apple Studios/Universal Pictures

Rockwell, and to a lesser degree Howard, are the standouts, his affable manner and smirk making the often-gratuitous violence land with at least a chuckle, and her contrasting hysteria an amusing foil. But try as they might, even in the midst of elaborate fight choreography, they can’t save Argylle from its excesses. By the end, I was exhausted and ready for a solid conclusion. It was not to be, as a post-credits sequence promises more. The cat should be worried.

*Starting in 2024, all Film Festival Today reviews will now be rated out of 5 stars, rather than the previous 4-star system.

Catherine O’Hara in ARGYLLE ©Apple Studios/Universal Pictures

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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