The most concise way to describe Matthew Vaughn‘s latest adventure, “Argylle?” Fondue. It’s loaded with hot cheese, is messy at times, and if you’re in the right mood, can be a lot of fun. This is Vaughn‘s fourth espionage film in a row, starting with 2014’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” followed by the pre- and sequels “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” and “The King’s Man.” Is “Argylle” able to distance itself from the King’s Cinematic Universe and entertain us with fresh concepts? Not exactly.
“Argylle” kicks off with an over-the-top cold open akin to what we’d expect from a “James Bond” or “Mission Impossible” flick. Narrated by author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) it quickly becomes apparent that we are seeing her imagination at work. Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill) is the hero of her novel and exudes all the classic hallmarks of a cinematic super-spy. He’s articulate, oozes charm, can handle himself in a fight, wears tailored designer outfits, and has hair that is more unflappable than he is. Argylle’s team is rounded out by two highly skilled agents, Wyatt (John Cena) and Keira (Ariana DeBose). As Elly’s latest book comes to a close, Argylle finds both his team and trust shattered. While the cliche-riddled dialog and copious tropes make Elly’s books impossible to take seriously, it turns out she has a unique ability to predict clandestine events that have actually occurred. As she’s struggling to write the final chapter of her saga, this special talent lands her in the cross-hairs of multiple real-life spies.
Her first introduction to the reality behind her fiction is Aiden Walden (Sam Rockwell), an agent sent to protect her from the evil Syndicate. This kicks off a delightful action sequence that showcases Matthew Vaughn‘s unique flare for violence. As Aiden dispatches goons, Elly begins to hallucinate Agent Argylle in his place. From one kill to the next, his visage switches between the two characters. It turns out that Argylle often appears to offer confidence to Elly when her anxiety kicks in.
The constant mix of reality and fiction, coupled with Elly’s impressive armchair-espionage skills, is where the movie really shines. It’s by far the least serious of Vaughn‘s films. Instead of being a bit silly, this movie is absolutely cheesy and revels in it. We’re not meant to take any of it seriously; it’s a fairy tale that both mocks and pays homage to decades of action flicks. That said, it becomes another example of “too much of a good thing.” With a runtime of over 2 hours, it’s at least 20 minutes too long. It also has so many twists, betrayals, and reversals that it becomes incredibly convoluted. I’m sure it’s meant to be another running joke, but instead, it tramples on the lighter, more heartfelt segments in the third act. There’s also the nagging feeling that it’s borrowing so much from other movies that it’s never really its own thing. It wasn’t until a fellow critic mentioned it that I realized how strongly it reminded me of “Romancing the Stone.”
With a bit more editing and a shorter runtime, “Argylle” could have been the perfect date movie. Instead, it’s bruised from its excesses. But, with enough time to spare and if you’re in the right mood, this is one movie you’ll certainly get your money’s worth from.