Written by Tom Augustine.

As a young, nerdy pre-teen, Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass landed squarely in my wheelhouse. The luridly violent, gleefully post-modern vigilante flick was colourful, trashy and comic-book savvy – catnip to a youngster with his nose buried in Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. It’s fair to say that Kick-Ass, like most of Vaughn’s juvenilia-obsessed output, has a very limited shelf-life – though both that film and Vaughn’s debut, the Daniel Craig-launching Layer Cake, retain a certain potency. As Vaughn’s budgets have grown, largely through the success of the exhausting, laddish Kingsman series, so too has Vaughn receded into the hallmarks of his work, which is to say, the hallmarks of other, better filmmakers that Vaughn has cribbed from mercilessly. There’s a touch of Guy Ritchie (on whose early films Vaughn served as a producer), a hint of Danny Boyle, and, naturally, a very liberal dose of Tarantino. Vaughn’s garish, high-trash sensibility occasionally finds nuggets of gold, but with the lamentable Argylle, Vaughn’s well of recycled tropes runs well and truly dry. I hesitate to call it Vaughn’s nadir when The King’s Man exists, but it’s certainly close.


The film concerns a writer, the reclusive Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose spy series Argylle is an international sensation. Paralleling early scenes of Elly’s quiet life are scenes from within the story itself, where Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill) is pursuing a mysterious, villainous broker (Dua Lipa, giving good Bond Girl) who may hold information that will turn the Agent’s world upside down. In the real world, Elly is stopped on the train by a dishevelled man (Sam Rockwell) who introduces himself as Aidan, a rogue agent who has turned against the nefarious covert spy network the Division, who themselves are out to capture Elly, whose books seemingly have the capacity to predict the future. Cue ‘thrilling’ international intrigue, as the mismatched pair attempt to unravel the ‘mystery’ of who the real Argylle is, and understand Elly’s connection to them.

Matthew Vaughn’s latest film is a dire, aggravating mish-mash of half-baked spy tropes torn from other, worthier films. A large ensemble of big names is largely wasted in service of bland action and a charmless script, marking Argylle as an early frontrunner for the worst of 2024.

The plot of Argylle, of course, is almost entirely inconsequential – the film is mostly interested in forward momentum and its non-mystery, keen on delivering shocking twists (that, if you’ve ever seen a spy movie before, are about as far from twists as you can fathom) – but what is most striking about the film is just how lazily Vaughn plods from sequence to sequence. Though the film purportedly aims for frothy spy-comedy pablum, there are incredibly few laughs and even fewer reasons to care. The action, the cornerstone of a film such as this, is shot with a halfassery that stuns – no Bond film, hell, no Johnny English film ever looked this woefully cheap. Leaps in logic and gravity-defiance are hardly deal breakers, as the Fast and Furious series can attest, but the CG-aided slurry of visual nastiness the viewer is asked to wade through, particularly during a climactic figure-skating shootout, fall well beyond the borders of reasonable doubt. This is to say nothing of the film’s soundtrack, which hammers every action sequence with grating funk music, a watery attempt to inject some sign of life to the zombified proceedings. This is a remarkably ugly film – not necessarily in its morals or messaging, for there is virtually nothing on the bones of Argylle that one could pick at ideologically or otherwise (a refreshing change of pace from the homophobia, misogyny and classism of the Kingsman films), but simply in the way it looks. Vaughn may be an acolyte of Ritchie and Tarantino, but possesses none of their visual panache or aura of offbeat cool. 

Argylle possesses a formidable cast, albeit an ensemble of offshoots in need of career jumpstarts. Howard, Rockwell, Cavill and Cranston are all the faces of franchises (or, in Rockwell’s case, awards-baiting vehicles) whose bankabilities have diminished of late. None of them will find an out in Argylle, which ostensibly serves them all roles in their wheelhouse, but whose direction and characterisation are so thin on the ground as to be negligible. Rockwell, in particular, who in the late 2010s seemed to find a strange niche of playing Nazis and racists, here attempts to pivot back to the charm he displayed in his Charlies Angels days. He fares the best of everyone involved, but still struggles to raise a pulse. Elsewhere, Samuel L Jackson appears to be sleepwalking through his small but narratively pivotal role as an ex-CIA chief, giving late-career straight-to-DVD Kelsey Grammar cameos a run for their money in lack of effort. Pour one out, too, for Ariana DeBose, given so little here in a minor supporting role that it’s easy to forget that only a few years ago she was accepting the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Though the marketing has focussed on Cavill, godawful haircut and all, and Dua Lipa, their time on-screen is relatively brief and largely in service of Howard’s arc. Howard, a likeable performer due a star turn like this, is given crumbs and asked to make a five-course meal. There’s an odd mix of superficiality and desperation that coats the cast of Argylle in an odious film, delivering a spy vehicle so dispiritingly perfunctory that it’s hard to even drum up enough distaste to genuinely despise it. Who is the real Agent Argylle? Who cares?

Argylle is in cinemas now.



Movie title: Argylle (Vaughn, 2024)

Movie description: Matthew Vaughn’s latest film is a dire, aggravating mish-mash of half-baked spy tropes torn from other, worthier films. A large ensemble of big names is largely wasted in service of bland action and a charmless script, marking Argylle as an early frontrunner for the worst of 2024.

Date published: February 5, 2024

Country: United Kingdom

Author: Jason Fuchs

Director(s): Matthew Vaughn

Actor(s): Henry Cavill, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, John Cena, Samuel L. Jackson

Genre: Action, Thriller

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