Novelist Elly Conway is an international superstar thanks to her ARGYLLE novel series. While entertaining, Conway’s research in the novels means that they’ve predicted many major real-world events! Unfortunately, this puts her under the scrutiny of real-world terror groups, believing she holds many of the secrets they’re after. While traveling on a train, she’s rescued by an eccentric spy, who quickly becomes the only person she can trust, with the atmosphere of her novels largely becoming a reality, and all hell breaking loose.
I’m certainly a van of Matthew Vaughn’s work, including series like KICK-ASS, KINGSMAN, and even some of the X-MEN film series. He’s the king of stylized action violence on the big screen, but always manages to do so with a sense of humor as well; no small feast given the violent R-rated nature of much of his work. ARGYLLE is the latest to come from the House of Vaughn, with a huge ensemble cast and a different approach to the spy world; Vaughn has claimed his latest project, while a spy-centric one, is very different from KINGSMAN. The end result, which is essentially JAMES BOND meets THE PRINCESS BRIDE, is action-heavy and hilarious, if not a bit overlong.
One bit I do want to get out of the way before moving forward with this review: While ARGYLLE heavily promoted an ensemble cast, many of the people on the poster are barely in the movie at all and are largely relegated to what are glorified cameos. Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell are the movie’s true stars, and I’m happy to say the film is a career high for them both. Howard fares great as the cat-loving fish-out-of-water type flung into a world she thought only existed in her spy novels, while Rockwell is the wisecracking secret agent who has a witty quip for any situation. They serve as excellent foils for one another, and each scene they spend together is comedic gold. Even if some areas of the film fall flat, you will laugh.
I’m also happy to say that the over-the-top action violence we’ve come to love in Vaughn’s work is here, and it’s as good as ever. Whether it’s jumping off a building to avoid bullet fire from terrorists or skating on an oil spill, the film speaks for itself. This combined with the meta-style approach of the ARGYLLE novels being written gives the whole thing a tone that’s both action-packed and comedic.
While Vaughn is the king of stylized action violence, one area many of his film fall flat is the editing process, and sadly ARGYLLE is no exception. It’s 140 minutes long. It absolutely did not need to be. It’s 30-40 minutes longer than it needed to be, and as such, aspects like the midsection and a dragged-out finale don’t have the impact that they should. In many ways, the film is a celebration of spy story cliches (albeit in a hilarious entertaining ways), but one major plot twist halfway through the movie involving one of entertainment’s most overused and ineffective plot points unfortunately didn’t do it any favors. A mid-credits scene (there’s nothing at the very end of the credits) raises more questions than answers, but certainly implies Mr. Vaughn isn’t done yet.
ARGYLLE has its problems, but there’s no denying it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious, and the performances from Howard and Rockwell are among the best of their career. When the film calls for action violence, Vaughn reminds us he does it like no one else. It’s way too long and the mid-movie plot twist is a disappointment, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a fun time with this one. Moderately recommended.