For the last two months, we’ve been riding an Argylle wave on social media. There’s been trailers, there’s been quirky kitty cat clips and more than a few TikTok conspiracy theories about everyone from Dua Lipa to Taylor Swift writing the movie’s namesake book… and the film seemingly had no qualms playing into the ideas. Well, it’s finally here and we get to see Argylle with our own eyes. Will it live up to the legendary reputation of the spy series’ it seems to parody? Or should this just go the way of Jason Bourne’s memory? Read on. 

Argylle follows author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard). Her world is riding high. Her main character Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill) has carried her to an incredibly comfortable life– despite her anxieties. However, things take a turn when she comes into contact with Aidan (Sam Rockwell) a quirky n’er do well who claims to be a spy. Is he? Soon she’s dragged kicking and screaming into a complicated espionage story which makes her question everything she knows. Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Ariana DeBose, John Cena, and Samuel L. Jackson co-star in the movie. Matthew Vaughn directs Argylle from a script by Jason Fuchs

Catherine O'Hara looks around befuddled as she cooks in a quaint kitchen in Argylle.

Catherine O’Hara as Ruth in Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn.

Argylle is an ambitious film. Heck, Matthew Vaughn is an ambitious director. Most will remember the filmmaker for his work on movies like Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and Kingsman: The Secret Service. Few directors handle action sequences quite like Vaughn. He has helped redefine the genre in the last decade.

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It should, of course, come as no surprise that the action comprises some of the most memorable moments in Argylle. While some sequences are marred by some less-than-stellar graphics and green-screen work, Vaughn’s execution is (as always) spot-on and thoroughly original. This reaches a crescendo deep in the second act with a shoot-out choreographed around richly colored smoke bombs. In another (slightly less believable) sequence, a group of baddies are dispatched in a wholly original ice-skating routine on a lake of oil. 

While doing all this, Vaughn succeeds in bringing together a flashy and entertaining cast. Henry Cavill is having a blast after finally shaking his heavy-handed Superman persona. However, who we really should be talking about is Bryan Cranston and Catherine O’Hara. Despite having supporting roles, the two perennial favorites steal every scene they’re in. Cranston, in particular, chews all of the scenery and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bryce Dallas Howard sits behind her desk typing at an Apple computer.

Bryce Dallas Howard as Elly Conway in Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn.

At the same time, Bryce Dallas Howard steps into the lead role and cuts a relatable figure as Elly. She’s a delight as a Joan Wilder-esque writer. She’s unafraid to bring her nerdiness, her occasional anxiety, some fabulous cardigans, and of course, her cat. In fact, for some of us, this character is a life goal. 

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However, the film struggles as it dives into its needlessly complex second half. Upon reaching the hour mark, Fuch’s script plummets into a series of twists and turns. This has some combined effects, none of which are great for the film. Not only does Argylle end up feeling like it’s not as smart as it thinks it is, but the other dreaded term that comes to mind is, “style over substance.” That’s not a good thing. Perhaps it’s trying to make a statement or even parody John le Carré, Robert Ludlum, and the espionage writers of yore. Ultimately though, the film loses all control in its undisciplined second half. 

Bryan Cranston holds an object in his hands as he wears a suit and stares off camera.

Bryan Cranston as Ritter in Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn.

With some red pencil, there’s a great film buried somewhere in Argylle. The first half is witty and fun, bringing all the hallmarks of Matthew Vaughn’s delightful auteurist presence. The second half though hits a brick wall faster than Wile E. Coyote. Coming in at almost two and a half hours, the film is far, far too long. Fuch’s reliance on repeated twists comes at the expense of not only the characters but also the jokes. When all is said and done, this lack of discipline torpedos what could be a delightful film.  

Argylle opens in theaters around the country on February 2, 2023. 

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Kimberly Pierce
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