Over the last decade, filmmaker Matthew Vaughn has indulged his spy thriller fantasies with his series of Kingsman films, about a stateless spy organization that utilizes sharp suits, gadgets, and parkour to save the world. Beyond Vaughn’s work, though, cinema is loaded with spy films of various quality, from the ups and downs of the Bond franchise, to sublime films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, to dumb fun B movies like The Beekeeper.
The thing these movies have in common, regardless of era, style, or relative level of seriousness, is that they inevitably and almost uniformly star men. Occasionally, women will get a spy thriller thrown our way with a Salt or an Atomic Blonde (both successful films that, for some mysterious reason, never spawned sequels). With Argylle, though, Matthew Vaughn takes his love of spy movies and ludicrous action sequences and delivers a dumb fun spy caper for the girlies, specifically for the indoor girlies and the cat girlies and the book girlies who might dream about a dashing spy appearing out of thin air to whisk her away on an adventure…but also wants to be the star of the show.
The first thing to know about Argylle is that it is a film that understands the sex appeal of Sam Rockwell, who plays Aidan Wilde, a spy that falls into the “realistic” category. He’s meant to blend in, being neither the biggest nor tallest man in any room, he wears normal clothes, he isn’t smooth—but he’ll kick plenty of ass at the drop of a hat. Or a cat, as it may be. What Aidan does have is charisma and sex appeal to spare, dancing and punching his way around the globe while trying to save Famous Author Elly Conway from a nest of nefarious spies who are out to get the last chapter of her new book.
Famous Author Elly Conway is played by Bryce Dallas Howard, projecting big Indoor Girly Energy. Elly is anxious, she is nervous, she does not want to talk to the weird guy on the train, she keeps seeing her own authorial invention talking to her in the mirror. She’s the authoress of a popular series of spy novels based on the fictional spy Agent Argylle, but she’s a virtual shut-in who hates flying and loves her cat, Alfie. She loves Alfie so much, she puts him in a cat-pack to take him on train trips with her. She loves Alfie so much one of the most emotional beats in the film is Elly debating if she has time to go back for Alfie mid-fight.
Alfie is portrayed by Claudia Schiffer’s real-life cat, Chip. He is very cute, a little superstar, but he is also a Scottish Fold. This breed is the result of deliberate breeding to enhance a recessive gene that causes folds in cartilage. It results in the breed’s distinctive folded ears, but it also leads to debilitating bone and joint diseases, including arthritis and osteochondrodysplasia. You can find out more about the unfortunate genetics of the Scottish Fold here. If Alfie inspires you to seek a cat companion, please do not support breeding practices that result in cats that live painful lives—every Scottish Fold experiences joint pain to some degree. Please consider instead one of the many cats awaiting a forever home in a shelter near you.
Back to the movie! Agent Argylle is played with cinematic aplomb by Henry Cavill, who, like he did in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., gets to riff on James Bond with a twinkle in his eye. Agent Argylle is everything Elly thinks a spy should be—smooth, suave, a good dancer, always says the right thing at the right moment. He’s a fantasy of a spy, as created by Elly, and about the only thing he has in common with Aidan are some of their fight moves. An early fight scene cuts between Aidan’s actual fight in the real world and the slightly smoother, more controlled imaginary fight Argylle is having in Aidan’s place, which is a neat visual trick while also showing off two distinctive styles of action choreography (from stunt coordinators Chris Cowan and the legendary Brad Allen, who sadly passed away in 2021).
Argylle is super stupid, of course, but it’s really no sillier than 90% of action movies made for men (see also: The Beekeeper). But there is a lot to like about it amidst the increasingly cartoonish plotting—it’s fun, it’s stylish, it has TWO show-stopper action sequences in the finale that both deliver (mostly) satisfying action and good comedic beats. It really only has two significant issues: it’s too long (no film like this needs to be more than 2 hours), and some of the action leans too hard on computer graphics for a boost.
The opening train sequence is a stand-out in part because, except for a few purposeful exaggerations related to Aryglle, it is a real, in-camera fight sequence. The finale set pieces rely on CGI to enhance and manipulate elements of the action, which is the moment you will disengage a little with those sequences. The entire John Wick franchise is proof of how much audiences like watching real action, and Matthew Vaughn can actually do this kind of action direction, but here he chooses to lean on computers a little too much, in the end.
But, on the whole, Argylle is fun. I won’t defend the plot—it IS dumb, and convoluted, but I will once again point out that I just sat through THE BEEKEEPER. If dudes get to have so many stupid action movies shoveled their way, the indoor girlies can have ONE stupid spy caper celebrating shy gals and their cat pals and the dancing madmen who occupy more fantasy real estate than people like to talk about. Argylle is dumb spy fun for the indoor girlies.
Argylle is playing exclusively in theaters from February 2, 2024.
(Note from Lainey: As Sarah just wrote, Argylle is a movie for the indoor girlies – so we would have liked to use photos of Bryce Dallas Howard to accompany this post. However… I used them all up this week in my own posts, selfishly, and we don’t have any new ones. We do, however, have shots of Sam Rockwell, that sexy motherf-cker, at Sirius XM the other day with Henry Cavill so that’s why you see them attached to this review. I wanted to explain this because in the hopes that you don’t accuse us of making a girl’s movie all about the guys, because that is not the case. It’s really just about photo availability and, again, I went big on Bryce earlier this week.)