ARGYLLE. So they’re not joking? [REVIEW]
Matthew Vaughn was at one point one of those creators who brought a breath of fresh air to mainstream cinema. His Kingsman, and earlier X-Men: First Class, demonstrated that it was possible to change the narrative approach in blockbuster formulas, infusing them with lightness while maintaining a keen genre sense. Unfortunately, the director’s later productions were not as successful. They began to be characterized by a lack of originality and a disturbing shift towards prioritizing style over compelling, cohesive storytelling. The culmination of this unfortunate path is, unfortunately, Argylle – The Secret Spy, which greatly disappointed me. Initially, it promised a conscious deconstruction but ended up embodying what it set out to deconstruct. It’s strange because the concept and starting point are simply brilliant and phenomenal – Elly Conway is the actual author of the Argylle book, becoming a narrative element in the film. You can buy it in any bookstore. The creators could have done anything with this starting point, but they chose to play with a series of twists without a solid narrative foundation and the opportunity to build relationships with the characters.
Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a popular author of a bestselling series about the spy Argylle (Henry Cavill). Towards the end of writing the final chapter of the saga, she experiences creative block. At that moment, a real agent (Sam Rockwell), who bears no resemblance to her romanticized image of a spy, enters her life. A series of densely packed twists leads to the discovery of the truth about the main character, solving the mysterious puzzle, and unveiling the secret surrounding Elly until the last scene. Sounds cool, right? And if I add that the production quality is also very good, you might be even more surprised by the fact that, in the end, this film is a disappointment for me. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Argylle doesn’t fully grasp what it is, losing the essence of itself in favor of a polished form (some visually stunning scenes) and a convention filled with an unbearable amount of unnecessary, exhausting twists.
Do you remember that strange, somewhat disappointing approach in The Matrix Resurrections, where the initially interesting, deconstructive idea of mocking the iconic first Neo film turned into a serious production? Argylle is a similar case, only much worse in execution. Matthew Vaughn’s film, for the first intriguing 20-30 minutes, laughs at clichés, typical bombastic action tropes, and blockbuster conventions, only to become a synthesis of what it initially exposed. As a result, the 100 minutes of this production are simply watchable. The feeling of wasted time was so painful for me that I left the cinema for the second time in my life, 10 minutes before the end (just after the entire plot thread was resolved). I believe the main problem with Argylle is that Vaughn was stuck between making a genuinely significant decision. He could have approached the interesting starting point with a bit more ambition, playing with shifting the boundary between the world of literary mirage and harsh reality, or fully indulging in fantasy in an almost brazen parody of the well-trodden entertainment cinema formula. He stood halfway, making the film a large, too-long, unfulfilled promise wrapped in a genuinely beautiful form and a star-studded cast.
I feel sorry for this cast the most. Sam Rockwell (whom I love, it’s a shame he had to struggle), Henry Cavill (his presence on screen is… a joke?), Samuel L. Jackson, and especially Bryce Dallas Howard deserved something better. Particularly, the actress known from The Help and the Jurassic World series truly puts effort into her performance, sweating and transforming on-screen every few minutes. This should be appreciated. Unfortunately, she cannot save how her character was written – a role composed of several obvious references, including Nikita and The Long Kiss Goodnight, but without any authorial touch and with the easy way out of a screenwriting cliché. The rest, unfortunately, seemed to know what they were playing. It’s particularly painful to watch Samuel L. Jackson, who seems to be cashing in on his fame lately and is probably just working towards retirement.
Argylle – The Secret Spy is a painful promise and ultimately a festival of missed opportunities, a very shallow, lazy blockbuster with excellent visual aesthetics. It works even worse when you’re aware that the creators know perfectly well what is wrong and clichéd in entertainment cinema, laugh at it themselves, and then serve the same thing to the audience. Someone clearly got lost here.