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Review: Matthew Vaughn’s Argylle Offers Plenty of Clever Twists on the Overused Spy Genre

To really understand where director Matthew Vaughn is coming from when deciding to make a spy action-comedy like Argylle, you might have to go all the way back to the beginning of his career, when he produced Guy Ritchie‘s early films. The two eventually went their separate ways, as Vaughn became a director in his own right, but over the course of their careers, each British director would persistently be asked about their interest in directing a James Bond movie. Certainly, they both have directed films in that realm, Ritchie with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Vaughn with the Kingsman movies.

That’s not to say that Argylle is trying to be Bond or Jason Bourne or even a Mission: Impossible, although there’s certainly DNA from those spy franchises, particularly when Henry Cavill from Mission: Impossible – Fallout first appears as the titular secret agent Argylle in the midst of one of his typical missions in Greece. We soon learn that what we’re actually watching is from a spy novel written by author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), as she’s addressing questions from a rapt audience of her fans at a book store. (Incidentally, Vaughn’s latest is based on a recently-published novel by one “Elly Conway,” which presumably is a pseudonym for another writer, possibly even Vaughn himself?)

Soon after, Elly is travelling by train with her constant feline companion, Alfie, when she encounters Sam Rockwell‘s grizzly Aidan Wild, who claims that he is in fact an actual secret agent like her fictional hero. We then watch him take on a group of men sent to kill Elly, as she envisions the unassuming Wild as her own better-coiffured action-movie-ready Argylle. Elly learns that she’s the target of a spy organization called the Division, led by the Director (Bryan Cranston), who sees too many similarities between Elly’s writing and his own agency’s devious plans. Together, Elly, Aidan, and Alfie go on the run as they try to find the answers to take down the Division, before they get their own hands on that same information.

If you’ve seen the trailer for Argylle, you may already know about the “mystery” surrounding Argylle’s true identity. Honestly, you shouldn’t worry too much about that, since there are plenty of other unexpected twists and turns to keep the viewer invested even after that information is revealed. That said – and this is always strange to say in the midst of a review – it’s best going into Argylle without knowing or reading anything about it, since there are so many twisty moments that will be far more amusing when unexpected.

Sam Rockwell in Argylle (Apple/Universal)

You can’t really get that much more META than what Vaughn is doing with Argylle, buteven more than that, it’s just the perfect showcase for the abundant talents of Howard and Rockwell, two actors who have done so much in their lengthy careers, but never anything quite like what Vaughn puts them through. On paper, they might be considered as a bit of an odd couple for this sort of buddy action comedy, but they have such great chemistry that you grow to love watching them together.

With so many stronger spy action-thrillers, like the most recent Mission: Impossible, the Cavill sections of the movie – even when they’re only taking place in Elly’s imagination – do seem cheesy by comparison. That might be intentional, as Vaughn, at times, seems to be poking fun at how this spy genre has been overused to the point of cliché.

Bryce Dallas Howard in Argylle (Apple/Universal)

Working from a screenplay by Jason Fuchs (Wonder Woman) that ably mixes the laughs and action with some romance, Vaughn has assembled such a talented cast around Howard and Rockwell, that we get to see Cranston, Catherine O’Hara (as Elly’s Mom), and Samuel L. Jackson, doing very different things from their norm, and honestly, all of them seem to be having a blast doing so.

Vaughn’s status has helped him put together an equally impressive team of creative heads of department to help realize his vision, with some exceptional work by Editors Tom Harrison-Read and Lee Smith, and just a perfect score by the ubiquitous Lorne Balfe that is integrated with great song selections to bolster the action beats.

There’s undeniable potential in Argylle at the world-wide box office, due to Vaughn’s previous track record with the Kingsmen movies, but also with that impressive cast he’s assembled, many of them doing solid comedic work, as well as some doing more action than we normally see from them. Those going into the movie to see pop star Dua Lipa making her feature debut might be disappointed by her miniscule screen time; the same can be said for a few others, as well.

Dua Lipa, Henry Cavill in Argylle (Apple/Universal)

Like some of Apple Studios‘ 2023 releases (Napoleon, Killers of the Flower Moon), the streamer has teamed-up with a major distributor, in this case Universal, and it will get a wide release that should allow it to do quite well with a wide variety of young and old audiences, since it’s not necessarily just for dudes like the recent The Beekeeper. (Ironically, that film’s star, Jason Statham got his start in movies from Vaughn and Ritchie. It all ties together.)

One can certainly see how some might find aspects of Argylle to be corny or a little over-the-top, but for those who have seen so many different iterations of the spy movie, both comedic and otherwise, it offers a clever enough twist on the genre that it remains thoroughly entertaining as Vaughn uses his cast quite brilliantly.

Talent: A-
Story: B
Crafts: B+
Awards Potential: Not much with a release this early in the year.
Box Office Potential: $60 to 80 million domestic
Renewability: It’s set-up to have more

Overall Score: B+

Argylle hits theaters nationwide on Friday, Feb. 2.


Studio: Apple/Universal
Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Henry Cavill, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cena, Dua Lipa
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenwriter: Jason Fuchs
Producers: Matthew Vaughn, Adam Bohling, David Reid, Jason Fuchs
DP: George Richmond
Production Design: Russell De Rozario, Daniel Taylor
Costume Design: Stephanie Collie
Editor: Tom Harrison-Read, Lee Smith
Score by: Lorne Balfe

Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.
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