At The Movies: Spy comedy Argylle features cool visuals in a generic story

At The Movies: Spy comedy Argylle features cool visuals in a generic story

Argylle (PG13)

139 minutes, opens on Feb 1
3 stars

The story: Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a renowned spy novelist and a loner. A fan, Aiden (Sam Rockwell), approaches her on a train. He appears to be oblivious to her growing discomfort and, worse, seems to be a conspiracy theorist. Through that encounter, Elly is caught in a scheme much larger than she could have imagined.

As a director, Matthew Vaughn has made his name as a storyteller with a gift for comic-book scenarios.

In superhero movies Kick-A** (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011) through to The King’s Man (2021), the British film-maker has crafted a highly controlled form of storytelling that revels in music-driven action, sparse settings, striking colour schemes and dialogue-driven humour.

Argylle, unlike much of his most well-known work, is not a comic-book adaptation. It is based on an original screenplay from American screenwriter Jason Fuchs, whose resume includes the DC Extended Universe feature Wonder Woman (2017) and the animation Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012).

The result is a film that bears many of Vaughn’s signature flourishes, including extended fight scenes that feel more like music videos, characters who speak combatively and a plot that does not really matter. Watch this for scenes, not story.

But what is missing in this PG13 outing is the edgy material that made Vaughn the poster boy for laddish cinema – see the sex jokes and exploding heads in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) and the cool violence of Kick-A**.

Stripped of shock value, the story of Howard’s Elly as a fish out of water in the crazy world of espionage has to stand on its own. It does, while also feeling disappointingly generic.


Top names are added for colour: Dua Lipa offers sensuality and glamour, John Cena is again the Caucasian version of South Korea’s Don Lee – the human bulldozer with a heart of gold – and Henry Cavill as the superspy of the title does a passable impression of the smugly suave 1980s-era James Bond.

The cat shown in the trailer is just one more running gag.

This is a story that cries out for sharper jokes and much more heart. Unless one empathises with Elly, the wacky escapades which find her – and her cat – screaming and hanging on for dear life become repetitive.

Hot take: This espionage comedy features a story that has been done better elsewhere, but is saved by Vaughn’s imaginative handling of action visuals.



John Lui (Film Correspondent),At The Movies: Spy comedy Argylle features cool visuals in a generic story. THE STRAITS TIMES.

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