Argylle is Matthew Vaughn’s answer to North by Northwest with a twist. Several twists to be precise. Some of them are predictable, others are preposterous, but most of them amount to a fun time. It might not deliver the jolt of energy that Kingsman left us with a decade ago. Nevertheless, Vaughn turns in another colorful spy comedy with inventive action, cheeky humor, and a well-suited ensemble. It has all the makings of a breezy night at the movies. At two hours and twenty minutes, though, the film doesn’t exactly fly by.
It’s been almost twenty years since Henry Cavill lost the James Bond role to Daniel Craig. Agent Argylle might be the closest he comes to playing Bond, although a green Nehru jacket isn’t exactly 007’s style. It turns out that Argylle is merely a character that spy novelist Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) cooked up. Or is he? Boarding a train, Elly crosses paths with a scruffy spy named Aidan (Sam Rockwell). Entering the world of espionage, Elly finds that her books are more prognostic than The Simpsons’ writers’ room. Having predicted multiple events, she becomes the target of the devious Division. Elly’s fate relies on her writing one last chapter in a caper that proves stranger than fiction.
Although she hasn’t always gotten the best roles, Howard has proven herself to be a consistently welcome screen presence. Like Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone, she brings sharp comedic timing to a damsel who slowly becomes the hero of her own story. Rockwell might not be the first actor who comes to mind when you think superspy, although that’s partially why he’s so entertaining in the role. Conversely, Bryan Cranston is tailor-made to play the villainous head of the Division. The two scene-stealers are Catherine O’Hara as Ellie’s mother and a cat who’s escorted around in a Minion-shaped backpack.
We haven’t even gotten through half of the cast, which also includes John Cena, Samuel L. Jackson, Ariana DeBose, and Dua Lipa. While they all make the most of their limited screen time, you’d think that Argylle would find more for them to do given its length. Although Vaughn keeps the plot moving with lively set pieces, Argylle struggles in the pacing department. Following one bombshell, it appears that the film is gearing up for the endgame. There’s still an hour left, though, with what feels like three climaxes. Even when we do finally reach the credits, we’re given a post-credits scene that’s more confusing than anything else.
This isn’t to say that Argylle is a drag to get through. Even at its most self-indulgent, it’s hard to deny that the action sequences are a blast and the casting doesn’t miss a beat. With more time in the editing room and an unhinged R rating, Argylle might’ve ranked among Vaughn’s most endearing efforts. Hopefully Vaughn will take these notes to heart if he moves forward with the planned sequel. As a launching point, though, Argylle has so much to enjoy that audiences should be inclined to excuse its faults. You might not walk away entirely satisfied, but you’ll be glad you accepted the mission.