By Ben Bright
This is my second review of the year, and it is one that I have been looking forward to Matthew Vaughn (Director- Layer Cake, X-Men First Class) creator of the Kingsman franchise. He has also produced contemporary classics that were directed by Guy Richie (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch). He has now brought to the screen the new spy thriller “Argylle”.
My dad and I are both big fans of Vaughn’s previous directorial flicks going back to Layer Cake, with a pre-Bond, Daniel Craig playing a drug dealer looking at retirement. We are also fans of the Kingsman franchise where Vaughn departed from his East London crime film roots and into films like “Kingsman: The Secret Service”.,
Vaughn went on to develop his signature style more stylized with eccentric characters, bright colors, and wild plotlines, whereas Richie proceeded to focus on more straightforward works like Sherlock Holmes, the film reimagining of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, and the pre-pandemic return back to form with, “The Gentleman”. I remember being in London when The Gentleman was supposed to come out on New Year’s Day, I remember seeing posters in the tube stations and wanting to see it but unfortunately, I had a plane to catch that morning of the 2020 New Year and unfortunately didn’t catch when it came out later that month, in the States.
Cut to a few months later and next thing you know, we are in the COVID-19 pandemic, the worst worldwide pandemic since the 1968 Hong Kong Flu pandemic of 1968. In our “lockdown” beginning in the following March, I finally was able to catch The Gentleman streaming somewhere, it’s irrelevant to where I was watching it, but it was like watching one of Matthew Vaughn’s Guy Ritchie flicks again.
But before this review begins to derail itself into a Guy Ritchie love-fest, I am going to get the train back on the rails and refocus on Matthew Vaughn.
He has some flicks that just “pop”.
His flicks just pop with a trademark style. You know when you’re watching one. He has a distinct signature like all directors have. You know it and it registers. When you watch Kingsman: Secret Service, you know what you’re going to get with Argyle. They could very possibly be present in the same bright-colored universe.
But on with the show!!!
The film opens with Agent Argylle portrayed by Henry Cavill (The Witcher, Man of Steel) dancing with femme fatale Codename: LaGrange (musician, Dua Lipa. Maybe, I am a grumpy old bastard, but I literally have no idea what she sings). The two spies seductively prance in a artistically shot film opening that transition into a massive shootout in what appears to be Santorini, Greece (Writer’s note. If you’ve never been to Santorini, GO! It’s amazing! It’ll change your life).
A typical spy film’s fare plays out within the story. Argylle and LaGrange have a massive chase scene across the rooftops ending in a conflict with a meet up with Wyatt a less typical character for John Cena (The Suicide Squad, Bumblebee).
The scene ends at the end of a book reading by Elly brought to life by Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World, The Help) in a bookstore as the fourth book in the “Argylle” spy thriller series is coming out. What the audience has seen up until then was from “Argylle” portrayed through the book’s prose.
After answering questions from fawning fans of her series, she returns to her lake house home to be facetime with her overcritical mother over her writing portrayed by the always hilarious Catherine O’Hara as Elly’s mother (Beetlejuice, Schitt’s Creek) criticizing the way the fifth Argylle book series is progressing as a story.
Elly decides to take the train to visit her parents, carrying her cat, Alfie, in what looks like an iron lung built for pets, when she interacts with a shaggy-looking individual who turns out to be a fan of her writing. The interaction is off-putting to her before she becomes attacked by the passengers of the train car and the individual proceeds to fight them off and rescues her.
Her rescuer, haircut and shaved is an agent sent to protect her (played by the always awesome Sam Rockwell, (Moon, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) because she has the inexplicable talent that her writing manifests itself into reality.
He explains to her that a secretive syndicate bent on……honestly, I don’t know.
I don’t remember the group’s motivations being quite clear, but back to that later in my critique. They want her abilities to write into their real-life plot for …whatever.
Cut to a chase across London where they have flown and inexplicably are not jetlagged and proceed to make it to France where they meet up with a former director of the CIA (Samuel L Jackson, I’m not going into who he is in this article because if you don’t know that he is the man who can deliver the word “fuck” like it is poetry, then you don’t even deserve to be reading this review).
What follows is an epic of spy craft, misdirects, multiple exposition dumps, twists, turns, stylized violence, silliness, and an only too-brief role by Sophia Boutella (Gaspar Noe’s Climax, Atomic Blonde).
There is a lot to unpack here about this flick,
Where the film starts straight enough, it gets muddied down very fast and hard to follow at points. Is it a movie? Is it a book in a movie? Is a movie, wrapped inside of a book, wrapped inside of another movie wrapped in a “what the fuck”? Who knows?
It is also overly long and the distillation of style over substance. You also often ask yourself, “What the hell is going on here?”
Motivations are unclear, and even though Vaughn has a great signature style, there are a couple of parts where you are left saying, “Really?”. You’ll know those scenes when you see them. I love silliness but this movie on a few occasions towards the end just overstays it’s welcome on the silliness scale. And why did they feel the need to shoehorn a half-baked love story in there?
But the film is not without its merits. Brian Cranston (If you don’t know who Tim Whatley, Hal Wilkerson, or Walter White are, you’re a lost cause) plays a brilliant antagonist. The always-amazing Rockwell steals the show, Howard is great as the reluctant participant in the whole scenario. Excellent gunplay and choreography. And for all my problems with it, it is not without vision or imagination.
There were a lot of things that I didn’t care for but if you are looking for the ridiculousness that goes over the top and outstays its welcomes with nuttiness and jaunty colors that would seem fitting at an underground rave in Miami while on a hard LSD trip, this is for you.
It is what it is. And that, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story.