Argylle review: More style than substance

Dua Lipa and Henry Cavill in Argylle (Image: Apple)

Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn, could be the spiritual sister of the Kingsman movies, also directed by Vaughn. Once again he returns to the spy genre this time focusing on author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) whose spy novels about Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill) have a habit of coming true.

As Elly completes her latest book she encounters some writer’s block. On her way to visit her mum, Ruth’s (Catherine O’Hara), she meets Aidan (Sam Rockwell) a real-life agent who saves her from unnamed goons. He then divulges the future predicting aspect of her writing and that a sinister underground network is after her to figure out where a thing is that contains top-secret information. It’s as basic as that. There’s very little in the way of backstory for anyone besides Elly, who eventually finds out why she is so good at writing spy novels.

The film plays with the device of Elly’s fictional characters frequently, often with the action being played out, from Elly’s perspective, by her creations. It makes for some playful fight scenes as the camera cuts between Cavill’s Argylle and Sam Rockwell’s real-life spy Aidan mirroring one another.

At times the film seems to be an out-right parody of the genre, especially the opening scene featuring Dua Lipa as a Bond girl-type character who zooms away from Argylle on a motorbike in a sparkly gold gown. We soon discover Elly is reading from her latest book to a captive audience. The scene features classic spy movie tropes from daring chase scenes, outlandish action, and chaotic destruction.

Argylle has its funny moments”

At first, I thought the rather obvious use of green screen and CGI in this scene was part of a parody, but given that it continues throughout the rest of the film, it seemed by the end to be more of a flaw rather than commentary of cinema’s perhaps over-reliance on those tools.

The action scenes are certainly fun and inventive, even downright colourful at times, but do go over the top, again making the use of CGI and green screen obvious. It does detract somewhat as it’s hard to imagine humans actually being involved in any of the action at times. Yes, James Bond may not be entirely believable but you always get the sense that the actors or stunt people are there.

Still, Argylle has its funny moments. This is mainly due to the cast. Catherine O’Hara, Bryan Cranston, and Rockwell all seem to be having fun, the latter filling out the role of lovable rogue easily. The cat, Alfie, which has been front and centre of much of the promotional campaign for Argylle is missing for a good chunk of the film and sadly probably is CGI in most of the scenes where it is present.

With a rather basic plot, predictable reveals, and over usage of CGI Argylle is perhaps more style than substance. Although at times the style is also lacking.

Argylle is in UK cinemas from 2 February.

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