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Stream It Or Skip It?

by Ohio Digital News

Argylle comes home to Apple TV+ as one of 2024’s most embattled films. Reportedly acquired by Apple for $200 million, the film – the first in a hopeful trilogy from director Matthew Vaughn (the Kingsman franchise, Kick-Ass) – tanked at the box office and was on the sharp end of a whole lotta bad reviews. Its only saving grace may have been Madame Web stepping in a couple weeks later and inspiring an even greater vitriolic barrage. But is Argylle REALLY that bad? Or is it another case of hype eclipsing the truth? Let’s find out.


The Gist: We meet Argylle (Henry Cavill) as he does what he does best: dancing with an attractive woman and shooting and car-chasing his way out of a scrape. His super-spy adventures aren’t really happening, and I don’t say that because the CGI looks so fake – no, this sequence illustrates what’s in the latest bestselling Argylle novel, written by Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard). She does a reading to her adoring fans then goes home to her Very Nice House, where she dotes on her cat, one of those designer felines with giant eyes and goofy little ears, and annoys us by talking to herself a lot while she writes the next book. She sends the draft to her mother (Catherine O’Hara), who gives her some notes, and has Elly hop the train to Chicago so they can work on rewriting that troublesome ending. 

But what Elly doesn’t realize is, HER LIFE IS ABOUT TO CHANGE FOREVER. A scruffy longhair named Aidan (Sam Rockwell) plops next to her on the train and before you know it he’s saving Elly’s ass from a bunch of damn ruthless killers. See, Aidan is a spy, and he’s protecting her from a secret spy cadre who wants to murder her because her books have somehow been predicting the future of all this sub-societal skullduggery. And here we are, about 20 minutes into this thing, ready to punch this premise in the nose for being annoying, and for bringing us out of the movie because we’re wondering how they’re going to explain this. Further complicating things is how Elly looks at Rockwell-as-Aidan in action but sees the far more suave Cavill-as-Argylle doing all the fighting and shooting, prompting us to question her perception and our reality and wonder how we can escape being privy to this tortured concept. May I suggest turning it off and meditating in front of a blank screen?

Alas, I cannot do that. Duty calls, so I dug in my heels and tried so very hard to care as Aidan and Elly go on the run to London and France and the Arabian Peninsula, getting into scrapes and navigating so many twists and double-crosses, the movie should be sponsored by Dramamine. We get scenes of bad guy leader Ritter (Bryan Cranston) screaming orders inside a Movie Command Center; drop-in roles from Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose, John Cena, Sofia Boutella and Samuel L. Jackson; and a bunch of nice-elaborate-set-it’d-be-a-shame-if-it-got-all-shot-up moments. After a bit, you’ll realize this isn’t a Henry Cavill movie – he’s in maybe 15 percent of it – but a Bryce Dallas Howard/Sam Rockwell buddy movie in which the director repeatedly tries to upstage them with the CGI pet cat, who travels through this thing peering out of a backpack with a little window on it. I mean, Vaughn is REALLY enamored with the comedic potential of this cat, and less so for his stars, who might want to consider firing their agents after this one.

Dua Lipa and Henry Cavill in 'Argylle'
Photo: Everett Collection

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Sandra Bullock played a writer unwittingly swept up into ludicrous adventures in The Lost City, and it wasn’t particularly good, but it at least made sense and inspired a few honest laughs.

Performance Worth Watching: O’Hara enjoys a couple solid one-liners, but this script is a thankless task for all involved parties. 

Memorable Dialogue: We all shout AMEN when Aidan is debriefed on one of the plot’s stupid-ass twists and he replies, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!”

Sex and Skin: None.

Henry Cavill, Dua Lipa, and John Cena in 'Argylle'
Photo: Apple TV+/ Universal

Our Take: The difference between Madame Web’s badness and Argylle’s badness is significant: Madame Web was front-to-back incompetent while Argylle is visionary, with Vaughn leaning heavily into his distinct brand of virtuoso obnoxiousness. And as grating and loud as the last couple Kingsman movies were, Argylle takes it a step or three further, ratcheting up the spoofy goofing until the film becomes a mess of mealy satire, wrongheaded “comedy,” cartoonish action and a Samuel L. Jackson guru-monologue about grapes that’s supposed to be profoundly metaphorical but is the movie in microcosm: tedious, pointless and far, far too long. (That Vaughn intends to shoehorn Argylle into the Kingsman “cinematic universe” is enough to send one into furious conniptions, although the film underperformed to the point where any planned sequels are likely being tabled as we speak.)

Although the actual budget of the film has been debated, it feels like blank-check filmmaking at its worst. Vaughn’s every indulgent whim seems to have been entertained. The CGI is rampant and chintzy, nobody bothered to edit the screenplay down to something coherent, a small legion of talented actors is asked to do borderline-embarrassing things and the overall tone is irritatingly self-satisfied. Vaughn concocts two third-act action sequences that are simultaneously original and godawful, showing us things we’ve never seen before and never want to see again, within a relentlessly artificial, antiseptic visual palette.

It’s easy to get upset when lovable, talented actors like Rockwell and Howard are asked to do stupid things in the name of a misguided directorial vision. They’re stuck playing phony characters who apparently are designed to be plot devices in a grandiose satire of spy-movie tropes; why else would the plot deploy so many ludicrous twists that deem to separate us from being emotionally involved with these people? But it’s not particularly witty or observant, and it leaves us feeling bewildered, frustrated and bored. Argylle has the uneasy feel of a movie that seemed great in theory but just doesn’t work in execution. Despite his insistence on style style STYLE – albeit without the stylishness that would render it artful instead of egregious clowning – Vaughn’s go-to shot is of the cat, reacting as all cats do to nearly everything: withering ennui with a fringe of annoyance. At least we can relate to that feeling.

Our Call: Arg. SKIP IT. 

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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