fri 19/04/2024

Argylle review - Matthew Vaughn's secret agent fantasy dares you to deny it | reviews, news & interviews

Argylle review - Matthew Vaughn's secret agent fantasy dares you to deny it

Argylle review - Matthew Vaughn's secret agent fantasy dares you to deny it

The greater the spy, the bigger the lie

Bryce Dallas Howard as Elly with Sam Rockwell as Aidan

Mystery surrounds the provenance of Matthew Vaughn’s new spy fantasy, Argylle. Allegedly, it’s based on the debut novel of the same name by Elly Conway, with Bryce Dallas Howard playing a novelist called Elly Conway in the film. But evidence of the existence of a real-life Conway is hard to find, though there was a rumour that it was a pseudonym used by Taylor Swift (who denies it).

But it’s all myth-making grist to the film’s fantastical mill, in which many games are played with multiple identities. Vaughn has previously mucked about with the spy-thriller formula in his Kingsman movies, but this time he has thrown caution to the winds and created a kandy-colored tangerine-flake extravaganza that does whatever it likes whenever it feels like it. It’s absurd, too long and frequently incredibly silly, but it will make you laugh out loud at its audacity. At one point, it almost turns into a musical, as characters skate on a lake of crude oil amid billowing streamers of coloured smoke. It isn’t Citizen Kane or Jules et Jim, but it’s a fun night out.

It kicks off at a hysterical pace with Elly's fictional agent Argylle, played by Henry Cavill like a cheesy action-man doll with a risible flattop haircut, having a high-intensity secret agent experience in Greece. This features an eye-catching cameo by Dua Lipa (pictured left with Cavill) in a gold minidress, playing the lissome Lagrange. She escapes on a motorbike, and Argylle pursues her across rooftops and down flights of steps in a Mini Moke. But this is just, if you will, an amuse-bouche, like the ones that always preface a Bond movie.

Back in what may be the real world, Argylle’s creator, novelist Elly Conway, is on a tour promoting her new book to her adoring legions of fans, but gets wrapped up in an unfathomable mystery after she meets – not accidentally, as it turns out – a guy called Aidan Wilde on a train. He’s dressed like a hippy who lives in a trailer park in the Mojave desert, but it soon transpires that he’s not what he seems. No, really? Before long he’s battling hordes of baddies on the train, as the terrified Elly struggles to work out what the hell is going on.

The good news is that Aidan is played by Sam Rockwell, a kind of thespian secret weapon who never seems to deliver a bad performance. Here, he’s perfectly cast as a laconic, wise-cracking agent, and it’s he who leads Elly around the globe and through a twisty labyrinth of adventures involving a super-secret file, a yobbish spy called Bakunin and a sinister organisation called The Division (imagine a composite of SMERSH, SPECTRE and the evil Thrush from the original Man From U.N.C.LE.). As the facts unravel, it becomes clear that somehow, what Elly Conway thinks is fiction is the truth about the real-life covert operations of a sinister spying syndicate… but if I told you any more I’d have to kill you.

Further felicitous casting has put the admirable Bryan Cranston in charge of The Division, a role he fulfils with messianic fervour and a short temper. He also doubles up as an avuncular parent, where he’s paired up with the brilliant Catherine O’Hara (who played the emotionally incontinent soap star Moira in Schitt’s Creek). Here, O’Hara plays Ruth, who’s Elly’s mother… maybe.

A tip of the hat is also due to Argylle’s auxiliary star, Alfie the cat, a rather handsome Scottish Fold (pictured above with Vaughn). Elly carries him around everywhere in a rucksack with a porthole he can see out of, just as Matthew Vaughn’s wife Claudia Schiffer has been parading the animal around at Argylle premieres. He’s actually their family cat, Chip. It pays to keep your friends close and your pets closer.

Argylle is played by Henry Cavill like a cheesy action-man doll with a risible flattop haircut


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters