Argylle Review

Matthew Vaughn’s newest spy epic is big, unwieldily, but also quite entertaining.

PLOT: The shy author (Bryce Dallas Howard) of a series of best-selling spy novels discovers that her books, somehow, are all true. Pursued by a top-secret division of evil spies, she must now rely on an unlikely protector (Sam Rockwell) to get to the bottom of the whole affair.

REVIEW: As a big fan of spy cinema, particularly the vintage kind from the early days of James Bond, I’ve always liked what Matthew Vaughn was doing with his yarns. While many say he should direct an actual 007 film, it’s clear to me – as a fan of the genre – that Vaughn’s heart belongs to a bygone era in espionage movies. If the Kingsman movies were his gonzo, R-rated riff on the Roger Moore James Bond movies he grew up watching, Argylle is his tribute to the campy James Bond knockoffs that hit theaters in the late sixties. Imagine the 1967 all-star version of Casino Royale, mixed in with a hefty dose of the Our Man Flint series, with a hero – played by Sam Rockwell, who seems to be channelling Dean Martin’s take on the Matt Helm films, and you’ve got a wacky spy yarn that’s unwieldy, but also quite entertaining.

Vaughn has picked two pretty perfect actors to lead his spy yarn; both cast wonderfully against type. This is a staple of Vaughn’s work, with him making Colin Firth and Ralph Fiennes unlikely badasses in his Kingsman movies. Here, he uses Sam Rockwell and Bryce Dallas Howard to great effect. Both are often underrated but are tremendously appealing in a movie like this, as they ground the film with a certain amount of heart you don’t get in more conventionally cast films.

It may surprise some to realize that the most hyped stars, such as Henry Cavill, Dua Lipa and John Cena, play comparatively minor roles, but Howard and Rockwell are top-notch. Rockwell plays a shaggy agent who is the opposite of the suave agent Argylle (played by Henry Cavill in fantasy sequences) that she imagined in her novels. Rockwell has rarely gotten the chance to play an action star, and there’s a certain thrill that comes with watching him demolish a train full of baddies while Sylvester’s “Do You Wanna Funk” plays on the soundtrack. Howard, for her part, is charming as the shy, overwhelmed cat-lady author, who gets to participate in more and more action scenes as the film goes on.

Their chemistry gives the film a nice Romancing the Stone vibe that differentiates it from other clones of that movie, as it takes the action (mostly) seriously, with Vaughn shooting the carnage in his usual, creative way. He stages each action sequence like it’s a musical number, including liberal needle drops on the soundtrack, which give the film a heightened, fun vibe that compliments the spy shenanigans.

Argylle, Henry Cavill, author

Meant to launch at least one franchise on Apple TV + (stay tuned during the credits for an inkling of where the series could go), the budget for this is a guarantuan $200 million. I imagine much of the money went into assembling the A-list cast, but the film also jets around from country to country, with it shot all over Europe. However, the bloated 140-minute running time slows the pace somewhat, with too much exposition in the middle third and some cringe-worthy CGI, most notably the cat (Alfie) Howard and Rockwell carry around for most of the movie.

Yet, the energy of the two leads saves the day repeatedly, with Rockwell a natural wisecracking action star with just the right amount of swagger and vulnerability. It’s also nice to see a movie that’s centred around a convincing romance, with him and Howard having terrific chemistry. Plus, there’s Bryan Cranston as a baddie, Samuel L. Jackson, and even Catherine O’Hara turning up in fun roles. If you go with the heightened vibe Vaughn is going for, you’ll have fun with it.

The question remains: is it worth seeing on the big screen? That’s always been the caveat of streaming films, as this will be widely available on Apple TV Plus in a few months, where it will likely be a bigger hit than it will be theatrically. That said, it’s not a bad date movie, with a pleasantly romantic vibe throughout (with the recently restored Beatles track “Now and Then” used as a bittersweet motif) that makes Argylle awfully likable. While it goes on a little too long, and the CGI cat was a bad idea, I had a good time with it and think most of our readers will, too. It’s silly – but intentionally so. If you like your spy flicks infused with a heavy dose of camp and are maybe tired of espionage tales being ultra-serious, this might be just the ticket. And, as a bonus, if you ever wanted to get a feel for what a Bond film might be like with an everyman like Sam Rockwell in the lead, Argylle is probably the closest you’ll get unless EON casts the next 007 way outside the box.

Argylle, Henry Cavill, Matthew Vaughn




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.