It’s often said that before even considering building a new franchise, one should prioritize the individual success of the first film. That was the case with the Kingsman saga, which only took off after confirming its commercial and financial triumph. Its creator, Matthew Vaughn, now decides to expand it into a cinematic universe – with the intention of eventual crossovers – by assembling a new trilogy, starting precisely with Argylle. Walking into the theater, expectations weren’t particularly high – online debates about Henry Cavill‘s (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) ridiculous haircut didn’t form a very positive environment – but there was a reasonable hope for a pleasant cinephilic morning.
Beyond the star-studded cast, I was aware of the intriguing narrative premise. Argylle tells the story of Elly Conway – portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World Dominion) – an author of a highly successful spy book series. However, when her fictional plots begin to mirror the clandestine actions of a real-life organization, quiet nights at home become a thing of the past. Accompanied by a real spy named Aidan – played by Sam Rockwell (Jojo Rabbit) – Elly traverses the world in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the criminals, with multiple shocking revelations, unexpected twists, and striking fight sequences along the way.
What a magnificent surprise! Argylle lands in that transition week between January and February, but it’s easily one of the best movies released in recent years around this time. Vaughn manages to take his openly silly premise and construct a genuinely captivating, campy atmosphere – ironically embracing its own absurdity – loaded with exciting set pieces, and emanating an almost nostalgic charm. Jason Fuchs‘ (I Still See You) clever screenplay is packed with meticulous connections between narrative elements introduced throughout the film, each of which has some impact on the main storyline, and character arcs, or simply contributes to the entertainment value through moments of humor and action.
No scene is structured haphazardly, nor is any narrative or character detail thrown in without explanation – from the title itself to Cavill’s hair, nothing escapes Vaughn and Fuchs’ attention. Argylle is a perfect example of how to turn a script that’s more complex than it seems into a tremendously accessible story for all audiences. Its campy nature enriches the storytelling methods applied by Vaughn and Fuchs, particularly the numerous twists usually present in movies of this subgenre, where no one is trustworthy, anyone can be the real enemy, and there’s a new revelation around every corner. I believe many may look suspiciously at the 139-minute runtime, but the care in making each of these minutes count ultimately justifies the over two hours of constant fun.
The first act sets all the pieces on the table but is disjointed enough to keep the audience intrigued. At its core, Argylle is a journey of self-discovery, just much more literal than the usual philosophical fare. As Conway delves into this world full of mysteries, she also discovers more about herself, leading to a surprisingly unpredictable second act that grabs viewers’ attention again and again whenever the film threatens to lose some of its fascinating momentum.
Comedy, action, and espionage are the three (sub)genres clearly in focus throughout the movie, but the third act is a magical culmination of each of these and all the elements that interconnect them. It’s three moments of pure entertainment on all levels. I admit the potential of getting ahead of myself with this next comment, but I doubt Argylle won’t appear on end-of-year lists for the best fight/shootout sequences. From a simultaneously hilarious and technically impressive fight/dance choreography to a superb, also quite funny musical choice – Lorne Balfe‘s (Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning) score also deserves praise – not to mention the overwhelmingly stunning, vivid colors filling the screen and the equally outstanding performances of the actors involved, this particular set piece will likely leave most of the audience satisfied with their weekend pick for film night.
Argylle might be “too much” for some viewers – whether due to its absurdity or the endless twists that can become irritating – but its delightful conclusion is undeniably impactful – George Richmond‘s (Free Guy) camera work is a clear technical standout. If I were to nitpick, I might say I’d perhaps rearrange the order of the three sequences comprising the climactic finale of the movie to end with the most cathartic one. There’s also a slight period of redundancy and lower energy levels in the transition from the second to the third act. But aside from these minor points, Vaughn delivers a pretty satisfying piece of art.
Final remarks for the cast who elevated their individual scripts – absolutely phenomenal casting choices! One of the initial concerns was indeed about Argylle containing numerous well-known actors, enough to justify more than one entirely irrelevant, easily forgettable few-second role. The balance between them would have to be sublime, and while not perfect, each has their moment to shine on the main stage with all the spotlights – Dua Lipa (Barbie), Ariana DeBose (Wish), John Cena (Fast X), and Samuel L. Jackson (The Marvels) don’t hold many minutes on their bags, but no one will forget their scenes.
Cavill surprisingly doesn’t have the screen time many anticipate – being the first name on the cast list leads to completely misleading expectations – but the actor offers his notable presence in many fight sequences. It would be hard to find anyone better than Bryan Cranston (Asteroid City) to portray a deliberately cliche villain with all his over-the-top line deliveries – what a brilliant actor! Rockwell is the ideal complement to the protagonist, both in terms of comedy and action, demonstrating all his range and experience as a renowned actor. Finally, Howard leads with, above all, a complete performance, alternating between her true personality and the one(s) the narrative forces her to take. The abrupt changes in her expressions and body posture identify the version of the character she embodies, proving again how underrated the actress’ talent truly is.
Argylle emerges as a (very) pleasant surprise this new year, blending absurdity with sophistication to create a truly memorable cinematic experience. Matthew Vaughn‘s vision, combined with Jason Fuchs’ sharp, clever screenplay, provides an entertainment rollercoaster ride that obliterates initial expectations. From unexpected twists and turns to the incredibly charismatic cast, not to mention a third act filled with hilariously unforgettable action set pieces, the complex-made-simple spy story captivates the audience with its campy charm and relentless energy. It’s my first big recommendation of 2024, one you can’t afford to miss in theaters!