MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Everyone deserves to turn their brains off at the end of a stressful week, and Argylle gives its audiences ample reason to do so. Director Matthew Vaughn’s (Kick-Ass, the Kingsman franchise) latest spy movie focuses more on delivering fun than it does a satisfying story, putting it more in line with over-the-top action films like F9: The Fast Saga than espionage thrillers than something like, say, Casino Royale. And honestly, that’s perfectly fine.
Argylle tells the story of Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), a cat-loving novelist who’s just about to finish the fifth book of her wildly popular spy series, Argylle, whose on-paper exploits are enacted from her imagination by Henry Cavill, who plays the titular spy. When the plot of her books leans uncomfortably close to reality, however, she gets swept up in a globe-trotting adventure with actual spy Aidan Wilde (Sam Rockwell.)
The movie’s main theme, “The greater the spy, the bigger the lie,” comes into play as twist after twist thrusts Elly into an increasingly convoluted world. Argylle’s plot is so twisty, in fact, that the film ends up feeling like a soap opera with lots of guns and punching. There are tons of leaps in logic for viewers to power through and more than a few conveniences are necessitated to move the narrative forward. Physics is also a set of mere suggestions rather than laws in Argylle’s world, leading to scenes where some viewers might be taken out of the action out of sheer bewilderment.
But what Argylle lacks in realism, it more than makes up for in the sheer imaginativeness of its action. Every major fight scene is a hyper-elaborate set piece that manages to entertain through the ridiculousness of it all. It’s the kind of movie that’s best enjoyed with your brain turned off, which is something people familiar with Matthew’s more recent work should already know. The abundance of creativity in how he plots out his action sequences, the meticulousness of their choreography, and the sensory overload brought about by the madcap visuals and cheeky scoring is something worth admiring, even by the most jaded of critics.
That is what defines Argylle as a film: it’s Matthew Vaughn simply having fun as a filmmaker. It’s unabashedly self-indulgent in every stylistic choice, and often feels like there was no one on set to tell him “no.” While this may not make the movie something everyone will like, it is fully and completely something that people who share Vaughn’s sensibilities will enjoy.
The one flaw in the parts that make Argylle enjoyable, however, is the quality of the CG work. One particular fight scene involving colorful clouds of smoke borders on looking cartoonish, which takes the campiness of the entire segment a little too far. Even in scenes where the action itself is in no way realistic, there’s a threshold to the artifice the human mind can take before it becomes unsettling.
Thankfully, the actors’ performances help mitigate that unease. Bryce’s Elly is utterly charming despite her awkwardness, while Sam’s Aidan is a perfect counter to his schmooziness. Henry is charisma incarnate as the fictional Argylle, able to elicit squeaks of delight from the audience with the slightest of smirks. Bryan Cranston is a standout as the villainous Director Ritter, who vibes as an evil lovechild of Steve Carell and Hal from Malcolm in the Middle. Catharine O’Hara is a joy to watch as Elly’s mother, Ruth, even if (or precisely because) there are shades of Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek.
The rest of the star-studded cast similarly excels but is just given far too little screen time to truly leave an impact. Dua Lipa, Richard E. Grant, John Cena, Ariana DeBose, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sofia Boutella all play distinct, enjoyable characters, but each one is underutilized due to the film’s chaotic plot.
Argylle is the kind of popcorn flick that doesn’t demand anything from its audiences other than to have a good time. Is it going to be the sort of film that more critical viewers will take note of? Probably not.
But is it the kind of film almost everyone will appreciate when all they want to do is have fun and not have to think about it? Most definitely. It’s imaginative in a way that doesn’t require much effort to enjoy, and we all need that kind of movie sometimes.
Argylle is currently screening in Philippine cinemas.