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Review: ‘Argylle’ feels absolutely soulless

argylle-courtesy-apple-tv
Courtesy Apple TV

By Jay Collura     2/13/24 10:42pm

Review: ★

What I am about to tell you may compromise my credibility as a film critic: Despite the fact that I saw the trailer over a dozen times, and that the film was relentlessly made fun of online prior to release, I was actually looking forward to “Argylle.” 

On paper, the film sounded like something I would really enjoy. “Argylle” follows a popular writer, Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is whisked away from her comfortable life after her latest thriller novel seemingly predicts real-life events in the world of espionage. By focusing on a writer, the film introduces a meta element that many action-comedies lack, creating an opportunity to imbue the saturated genre with self-awareness and visual flair. It is a shame, however, that this film fails to even provide the audience with anything, let alone something remotely subversive or intriguing. 



The first and most immediate failing in “Argylle” is the lack of any ingenuity in terms of the premise. Outside of the logline, the film really does nothing to imbue its world with creativity. Spy movies are defined by fancy gadgets, exotic locations and intense interactions between sharp personalities, yet the film forgot to bring anything to the table. What the audience is left with is a very standard action story with predictable settings and horribly CGI-ed locations that make everything feel flat. 

Director Matthew Vaughn has demonstrated in the past that he has an understanding of the espionage-thriller, but that feels completely lost here. While I am not the biggest fan of “Kingsman,” it is undeniable that Vaughn’s franchise is steeped in a reverence for James Bond and other spy literature. This respect for the genre is thrown out the window, though, and replaced by the most straightforward, AI-generated action plot possible.

My disappointment in Vaughn extends to the action sequences throughout the film. It is acceptable to put the counterintelligence into the back seat if it is replaced with spectacle, but Vaughn forgot to apply his sleek, kinetic style to most of the action. Each confrontation boils down to people punching each other in locations that were only reminiscent of better action movies. The lack of an R-rating and any competent sound design makes everything feel very inconsequential, as if people are pointed at and then just fall over. After “John Wick: Chapter 4” and “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning” were released last year, it is becoming really easy to see when action films are not up to snuff.

However, the film could have voided all criticism by being funny — a goal it inadvertently succeeds at. My biggest laugh came when two characters romantically described “their song” as “Now and Then,” the AI-generated Beatles song that came out last November. But any time the film wanted to make me laugh, it went for obvious observational humor and the cliched quips that Marvel movies ran out of a decade ago. 

Even if the jokes were good, I would struggle to laugh due to the incongruent tone — there is seemingly a plot twist every 20 minutes, each presented as deathly serious, conflicting with the jokes. If each twist was made out like a joke, it would be a lot easier to just go with the flow of the movie, but the film insists that everything that is happening should and does make sense. The script practically forces everyone to verbalize everything happening on screen at least twice, reducing performances from usually strong actors, including Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston and Catherine O’Hara, into nonsense.

The only one who gets away with the atrocious dialogue is Samuel L. Jackson, who is a bright spot in an otherwise stiff and wooden cast. He is not the only flash of competency though — there are a few moments of action that feel fun, and the film does at least attempt to use color in a meaningful way, something that many recent action movies forget. The film is also an original concept, signaling a turn away from action IP in Hollywood. 

This is all inconsequential, though, when the film feels soulless and over-produced. As many critics and online movie fans have pointed out, the best thing about “Argylle” being released is that the movie community no longer has to watch the trailer every single time you go to the theater.



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