Argylle, with Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Henry Cavill, and more, is a ridiculously good time. It’s a stylish and fun action spy film with both heart and cheekiness that’s pure moviegoing fun. Argylle is a visionary romp that will leave you a Matthew Vaughn fan if you weren’t one before. It subverts clichéd spy movies in the most exciting way, and has enough whirlybird twists to make even the most seasoned figure skater (or moviegoer) smile.
[This is a spoiler-free review of the upcoming action spy movie Argylle.]
The story of Argylle
We meet our lead, Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), in the middle of her extremely successful, if lonely, life, where she conjures up impossible feats of spy craft and intrigue in her Argylle book series. In a short period of time, Conway, who started writing after an unfortunate skating accident, has been made rich as all get out by her words.
She lives a reclusive life by a mountain lake with a home full of books, maps, and sources that would make even the International Spy Museum envious. Although Elly has fans so obsessed that they cosplay as book characters and attend launch parties (ahem, calling all Sarah J. Maas fans), she is essentially a cat lady, and she’s OK with that. (And we, as the audience, are OK with it too because Alfie, the mercury-free tuna-eating, backpack-riding cat, is adorable.)
Despite all that outside success and adoration, she still has her neuroses and can’t quite finish the book on the fifth installment of her spy series. Well, it turns out that Elly has bigger problems than writer’s block and an overly critical mom (Catherine O’Hara). It seems her books were a little too accurate, and a real-life secret organization is not too pleased with her, and has sent A LOT of spies to kill her. This self-insert in Argylle for Elly is part Stranger Than Fiction and part Romancing the Stone, which works most gloriously.
If you’re a spy-genre fan, this is kind of a cool callback to what happened to Tom Clancy in the early days of his Jack Ryan books. The mega-popular author with no military training and a love of extremely detailed research (again, very Elly Conway) somehow got a little too close to home on military and spy craft tech that people at Langley were sent to investigate. But presumably with less stabby pens.
Bullet Train but with a Geico Caveman and Superman
But back to Argylle. Luckily for damsel (and cat) in distress Elly, someone is there to save her during that oft-played trailer train scene. Sam Rockwell (or Justin Hammer for you Marvel fans) is everything you wouldn’t expect from a spy. (That classic gentleman spy trope belongs to Henry Cavill’s character.)
Instead of a whirlwind of charm, we meet Rockwell’s Aidan, poster boy for Geico caveman-inspired style. Elly is appropriately flabbergasted by Aidan, but things get even more confusing for her. The line between fact and fiction blurs hard because as Aidan takes out bad guys and gals, he glitches between a caveman and the suave Henry Cavill and Agent Argylle from her books.
Is Elly losing her mind? What is the truth, and how do we make sense of the world around us when everything is not as we thought? Those are essential questions in Argylle, of fish-out-of-water spy-genre stories in general and of life, too. Argylle stylishly deciphers this for the audience.
In praise of Bryce Dallas Howard as Elly Conway
In Argylle, Elly Conway is thrown out of her comfort zone. She discovers things about herself that she didn’t know she could do or be. Bryce Dallas Howard is a fantastic actress that shows the range and breadth of her skills as Conway.
Howard is vulnerable where she needs to be when she’s on-screen, but also holds her own and surprises us with quiet power. She both comes apart at the seams and comes into her own in an enigmatic mix of contradictions, and that’s fun to watch.
Sam Rockwell and Henry Cavill in Argylle
Sam Rockwell, as international master spy Aidan, is also quite compelling. His easy charm and “I’ve got this.” attitude on screen is a mix of Harrison Ford and Scott Bakula’s Jonathan Archer. It’s cool, and Rockwell’s charisma had me rooting for his character the instant he was on-screen, caveman duds and all. After watching Argylle, I wanted to go and rewatch everything Rockwell (and Vaughn, too) had ever done immediately.
With his ridiculous and tall 1980s haircut, Henry Cavill channels his best Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) from Creed II. He’s the book-boyfriend version of the ideal spy, the opposite version of Channing Tatum’s Dash McMahon in The Lost City. In his green velvet Nehru suit, he’s James Bond and The Most Interesting Man in the World mixed into one. It’s a little bit campy, but also totally works tonally. There’s some disconnect between the actor and the character that Argylle handles and leans spectacularly into with literal winks. This movie doesn’t totally take itself seriously, and we’re here for it.
The rest of the cast in Argylle is also quite fantastic and leans 100% into their roles. Without spoilers, Bryan Cranston, Samuel L. Jackson, Catherine O’Hara, John Cena, Ariana DeBose and Dua Lipa all own their respective parts. These are movie stars with a capital M and radiate enough magnetism to have an entire spy movie of their own. Together, they are a chef’s kiss come to life.
Argylle as a spy movie
Tonally, Argylle is about as far away from a Tom Clancy or John le Carré spy story that you can get. There are some self-aware Bondian moments (Hello, Cavill’s Dr. No inspired velvet Nehru jacket), however Argylle is unashamedly and unabashedly a stylish and fun Matthew Vaughn movie. It’s a mix of charisma and introspective spy genre cheese. Argylle is twisty with electric energy and massive surprises. It isn’t bawdy, but it is explosively funny with laugh-out-loud moments.
Argylle subverts clichéd spy culture, and that’s part of why it works. Everyone in the movie knows precisely why they’re there and what their purpose is. The movie is more than just a gold lamé veneer of fun; every moment of its construction is handcrafted and meant to entertain.
Argylle is a masterclass in technical filmmaking excellence
Not only is Argylle a stupidly fun movie, but from a technical filmmaking perspective, it is an outstanding achievement. The script, by Jason Fuchs, is wildly entertaining. Argylle’s action simultaneously is a ballet of whimsy but with a razor-sharp edge. Everything clips along so fast that you willingly get caught up in the moment, and the sheer audaciousness of it all.
The train scene has made the rounds on the internet, but every single action scene is executed with such astounding editing, stunt choreography, and filmmaking skill. Argylle totally fulfills its ambitious premise. My mouth is still hanging open at the sheer awesomeness of the smoke grenade dance and the oil slick scene.
But, you may ask, who is Agent Argylle? Much has been made in the marketing of this movie and the online discourse about the identity of the real Agent Argyle. The film answers this question spectacularly. But as a humble request, go into this film without spoilers and enjoy the ride.
Argylle is completely over the top in the best way. See it on the big screen, where you can fully appreciate this bonkers and brilliant movie from Matthew Vaughn, Jason Fuchs, and co. And then go home and stream Now and Then.
Argylle releases in theaters on February 2, 2024! Are you excited for the movie? Have you had a chance to check out the trailer yet? Connect with us on all our social media platforms @mycosmiccircus, including our free Discord, to share your thoughts.