"Argylle" is an outlandishly fun mixed bag of too many plot reveals and inspired set-pieces

Argylle (2024)

If the "Kingsman" movies turned the dapper, sophisticated spy movie on its head, director Matthew Vaughn’s "Argylle" is very much cut from the same slick-suit cloth. This time, the cloak-and-dagger plot takes on a "Romancing the Stone"/"The Lost City" setup with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach that’s eager to please. There can be a fine line between a movie being clever and a movie being smug, and "Argylle" constantly rides that line’s ass to the finish. The unabashedly ridiculous fun factor, however, does win out.

Bryce Dallas Howard is exactly where she should be, front and center as Elly Conway, a timid, anxiety-ridden author of “Argylle,” a best-selling series of espionage novels. She’s single and resides in Colorado with her cat Alfie and a bad case of writer’s block for her next literary installment. But soon, Elly (and Alfie in a travel backpack with a window seat) gets thrust into the real espionage world with Aidan (Sam Rockwell), a real spy who informs Elly that her books have actually been used to predict real-world events. Of course, nothing is what it seems.

When the film opens, it’s clear we’re in a heightened version of Elly’s espionage story on the written page, where the green screen and CGI are overt, but that’s part of the fun. It’s all very sexy and stylish and aware of how over-the-top it is, as Argylle (played straight by a square-jawed, flat-topped Henry Cavill) is sent to Greece to capture seductive villainess LaGrange (Dua Lipa). John Cena, Ariana DeBose, and Richard E. Grant even turn up as members of Argylle’s team. Once the fantasy—everything in Elly’s creative brain concerning Argylle—bleeds into this movie’s reality, there is a playful editing device where real spy Aidan becomes book spy Argylle every time Elly blinks. 

Then screenwriter Jason Fuchs ("Pan") changes course and toys with expectations. There is a lot to like about "Argylle," but there is such thing as too much of a good thing at 139 minutes. It ends up being too clever by half with a preposterous, if self-aware, reveal on top of another reveal; maybe one less rabbit out of the hat would have sufficed. If there’s one thing director Vaughn does not fall short with, it’s in several of the thrilling set-pieces, some of which reach levels of sublime ridiculousness that one hasn’t really seen before. The most giddily entertaining highlights include a fight-turned-dance in colorful clouds of knockout gas and the most graceful showdown by way of ice-skating on an oil slick (just shut up and go with it). Read the full review at GuyAtTheMovies.com

Grade: B -

Universal Pictures released "Argylle" (139 min.) in theaters on February 2, 2024.