There is a point in Mathew Vaughan’s latest action thriller, “Argylle,” where it is stated that one character doesn’t like spy fiction because it is silly. It is this kind of metatextual, tongue-in-cheek style, apparent across the entire film, and indeed almost every big-budget action blockbuster, that encapsulates why “Argylle” will fail to capture the audience’s hearts.

It has become farcical how over-exposed cinemagoers have become to the trailer for this film. However, if you needed a reminder, the film centers on famed spy novelist Ellie Conway, who made a name with her Argylle book series, finding herself drawn into a cartoonishly bombastic world of espionage when her books start to mirror and perhaps even predict real-life events. This high-concept premise begs the spectator to become invested in Ellie’s journey and be actively engaged in answering these mysteries alongside her. Yet, the film never does the legwork to make that the case. Its self-awareness means it comes across as sneering in tone. Information is slowly drip-fed to the audience, not in a way that builds suspense, though. Instead, it is rather annoying to force you to sit through every tedious cliche of the genre whilst waiting for the next round of exposition to be heavy-handedly dished out.

When the film’s secrets are revealed, there is no emotional weight to them. They are answers to questions you feel cornered into asking. Describing a film as “tightly constructed” would usually be a positive attribute, but, in the case of “Argylle,” the film is so obvious in its signposting of elements that will become important later that it would make even Chekov blush. This lack of emotional investment in the film is also due to the world around the narrative feeling woefully underdeveloped.

The knowledge that this film exists within the same universe as the Kingsman series, Vaughn’s wildly superior features appear tacked on, and a frustrating reminder that you could be watching a better film instead of sinking 139 minutes into this train wreck. Characters are written to be entirely functional and molded into such clearly-defined cookie-cutter templates of “good guy” and “bad guy” that even when loyalties are supposedly tested, they come across as transparent attempts to convolute the story rather than genuine efforts to challenge the audience and complicate who they align with.

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Vaughn is undeniably talented at handling action sequences, and there are a couple of genuinely great setpieces that may satisfy spectators for whom that is all they want out of the film. However, given there is a distinct lack of stakes, they feel arbitrary at points, and the rest of the film doesn’t aid in filling in the empty space as we jump inconsistently from fight scene to car chase to another fight scene, without any purpose behind the cheap hits of dopamine they deliver.

Bryce Dallas Howard in "Argylle."
Bryce Dallas Howard in “Argylle.”

Furthermore, with such a star-studded cast, comprised of Bryce Dallas Howard as Ellie, Henry Cavill as Argylle, and Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, and Samuel L. Jackson, to name but a few filling out the ensemble roster, you never recognize them as characters. They appear only as familiar faces dropped into situations we have seen hundreds of times before in far better films. The performances aren’t bad and do breathe some life into this hackneyed film, but they are nothing we haven’t seen from these people before, and their lack of motivation in the narrative means their talents are squandered. The comedic beats also, therefore, fail, as they do not feel distinct to the characters. Every character talks with the same voice, and every joke feels cheap.

The film also falls flat visually. Barring brief moments where the film allows itself to be expressive in its color palette, it all feels bland and artificially put together. Argylle’s narrative is put together to allow for a number of different locations, yet the production design, which might match the cartoonish style, all feels too heightened. No set feels lived in, and the characters never interact with the spaces properly to give them this feel.

“Argylle” is a failure on almost every level. Everything is steeped in a self-awareness that it becomes impossible to truly immersive yourself in the world of the film. On an intellectual level, one can appreciate the narrative cohesion. Every element introduced is paid off, but none of it is satisfying because there is nothing to connect with emotionally. It’s a film that is too clever for its own good and comes across as smug for most of the runtime, a runtime that is far too bloated. In the end, it delivers on its premise, but unfortunately, it never elevates itself beyond this. Too unambitious and simplistic to leave any lasting impact.

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Argylle (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
Argylle (2024) Movie Cast: Henry Cavill, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose, John Cena, Samuel L. Jackson
Argylle (2024) Movie Genre: Action/Comedy, Runtime: 2h 19m
Where to watch Argylle

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