Two elaborate action sequences in Matthew Vaughn’s Argylle make you wonder if these were the motivation to make this spy thriller. One is a choreographed set piece in which the central characters Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Aidan (Sam Rockwell), fight off relentless attack by the bad guys in clouds of colourful smoke. In another, Howard fashions makeshift skates and glides across an oily floor gracefully felling another set of attackers.
There’s another big fight on an American train, then another in a building in London and a car chase through Greece. Binding it all is a story within a story about bestselling author Elli Conway who writes novels about a Johhny Bravo-styled spy called ‘Argylle’ (Henry Cavill), who becomes quite a model for the Nehru jacket. John Cena plays Argylle’s partner Wyatt and Ariana DeBose is Keira, their tech support. Argylle and his team are in pursuit of femme fatale LaGrange, played by Dua Lipa.
Conway’s stories somehow predict real life geo-political events, which makes her a person of interest for various covert operators and an underground syndicate headed by Ritter (Bryan Cranston).
Why is Elly’s life under threat and why is Aidan so invested in her survival? It's not possible to address this without giving away spoilers; suffice to say it’s not easy to separate fact from fiction in this bloated script (written by Jason Fuchs). In an otherwise scant film, Vaughn’s action visuals pop but slightly, like the popping of bubble wrap. A mid-credits scene suggests a prequel, connecting Argylle with Kingsman and Vaughn’s intention to create his own wry and stylized spy-verse.
Argylle is devoid of that wicked self-deprecatory humour and black comedy one has come to associate with Vaughn, who has helmed the Kick-Ass and Kingsman films. He does load the screen with cameos and star appearances including Dua Lipa, Samuel L. Jackson, Cranston, Sofia Boutella, Catherine O’Hara and Jing Lusi. A cat named Alfie, who appears to be computer-generated, travels the world with Elly in her cat-pack. Alfie also becomes part of a running gag in the 139-minute-long film. Bryce Dallas Howards holds her scenes, conveying her character’s distress and disorientation, and her scenes with Rockwell have a smidge of verve.
Aidan’s entry into Elly’s life is accompanied by a sudden eruption of violence. If Elly is confused by these events, by her relationship with Aidan, by Ritter and his motivation, by the belated entry of a music box (which initiates an excruciating fight sequence), then she is not alone. The viewer is just as flummoxed.