You probably shouldn’t listen to me in general, and you really shouldn’t when it comes to movies. Consider the fact that I’m no expert. I’m not a director. I don’t have a degree in film studies. I’m just some guy who’s done some screenwriting and is extremely into movies. And bear in mind that this isn’t an impromptu pity party I’m throwing on my behalf. There’s something more to it.

I used to think that some movies, and some tiers of filmmakers, were objectively good. Akira Kurosawa is a genius, and if you feel otherwise, that’s a you problem, not a Kurosawa problem. But you and I both know that’s wrong. The three most subjective things in this world are food, love, and art. To return to Kurosawa for a second, I adore Seven Samurai. You’re not into it? That’s cool! 

I mention all of this because it’s important you understand when I’m not in sync with an audience. We’re going to talk about Mathhew Vaughn’s spy-comedy Argyll. If you want to enjoy yourself and have a nice time at the movies, I’d skip reading literally everything beyond the next two sentences. Just know that the odds are good you’ll have a good time with this one and you’ll leave with a nice endorphin rush. We could all use a little of that these days.

Still here? We’re introduced to…well, not just a man. More the platonic ideal of a man. The kind of man that men want to be and that women want to be with. When Donald Trump tells his deeply hilarious and one hundred percent full of shit “Sir” stories about strong men crying in front of him? This can only be the kind of man he meant. I am, of course, talking about the world’s greatest spy, Argylle (Henry Cavill). 

He’s on a mission in one of those preposterously scenic Greek towns. His objective? To infiltrate a shadowy rogue intelligence agency. To do that, he’ll have to extract information from enemy operative LaGrange (Dua Lipa). Argylle only has his tech guy Wyatt (John Cena), his zero point eight percent body fat, and his precision-trimmed flattop to rely on.

There’s also the fact that Argylle isn’t real. He’s the subject of a series of spy novels created by Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard). It helps that Elly is a damn good writer. She meticulously researches intelligence agencies, languages, regions, all in an attempt to create verisimilitude. Elly wants to get it right, with or without the help of her annoying mother, Ruth (Catherine O’Hara) and with the help of her cute-as-a-button Scottish Fold cat Alfie.

What doesn’t help is that Elly might be..well, too good a writer. She’s close to finishing her fifth book at her picturesque Colorado home, and while on a train* trip to meet with Ruth, she meets Aidan (Sam Rockwell) instead. Turns out the grungy Aiden is a real spy, and it turns out that Elly’s books have an alarming ability to predict the future. The bad guys (Yes, that’s what Aiden calls them) want Elly, dead or alive. So Elly, Aiden, and an extremely uncomfortable-looking Alfie embark on a globetrotting adventure.

That all sounds like fun, right? It is, and here’s the thing about that. Director Matthew Vaughn has a well-deserved reputation for making (ahem) kick-ass action movies. His creative blend of choreography, color usage, editing, and cinematography has created numerous memorable action sequences. He’s shown us Magneto slaughtering South American Nazis, a blue collar Londoner thrown into a Bondian world, and a tween rampaging through a group of luckless mobsters. There’s a reason Vaughn is one of the best in the business.

With Argylle, Vaughn has made a sunnier, though sloppier, version of Kingsman. It’s not as edgelord-adjacent as Kick-Ass, and in fact his tone is breezy and light. So light that everything feels somewhat inconsequential, but we’ll get to that. What’s frustrating to me is that as cleverly shot and staged as the action sequences are, the pacing constantly drags things down. 

This being a Matthew Vaughn joining, there’s no surprise that the action sequences are clever, such as a dance/shootout with multicolored clouds of smoke and an ice skating sequence without ice. I enjoyed the moments where we see Elly watching Aiden dispatch legions of goons, and her perspective keeps shifting between seeing Aiden and seeing Argylle. Heavy handed and obvious? Yes. Entertaining? Sure, sort of! Unfortunately, the film drags quite a bit, particularly in the first half. There’s no reason on God’s green earth for a spy comedy to be close to two and a half hours long. A film like this should move like a souped up Aston Martin. Too often, Argylle moves like Roger Moore in A View to a Kill.

The screenplay by Jason Fuchs telegraphs a twist, then another, then another. It’s not bad writing at all, but Fuchs seems more interested in yanking the rug out from under the audience than he is at telling a strong story. Sixty percent less twists would have been good in this case. There’s also the problem of repetition where, over and over, Elly and Aiden have to do a thing. Elly doesn’t want to do the thing, Aiden attempts to persuade her, then he forces her to do the thing. It’s frustrating, because when Fuchs occasionally digs into the characters or the ridiculousness of the world that Elly has been flung into, it’s fun. Another couple of drafts spent tightening up the story & going for more interesting approaches would have been an improvement. 

We have a stacked cast here, and with one exception, the cast does largely the kinds of things you’d expect from them. Yes, Sam Rockwell plays a charming weirdo. Yes, Bryan Cranston yells. Yes, Catherine O’Hara does so very much with so very little, and yes, Henry Cavil does just as much with even less. Everybody does well. Then there’s Bryce Dallas Howard who comes and steals the whole damn thing. She’s playing what seems to be a thankless role, initially, that of the nervous writer. But watch her comic timing, watch how, as the film progresses, her body language changes. In a movie that has no use for subtlety, Howard’s Elly is subtle, emotional, and cool.** 

The last ten thousand words I wrote, though? None of it really matters. Because as I walked out of the screening, I overheard a group of women talking to a publicist about Argylle. They loved it, adored it, and were singing the film’s praises. Argylle is too long, sort of dumb, and less clever than it is “clever.” If you treat it as a fleeting Friday night trifle, and if you definitely ignore me on this one, you’ll be happier.

*Perhaps the most unbelievable detail is that Colorado could actually have a statewide rail system that’s clean and inexpensive. Who do you people think we are, Europe?

**I’m also stunned looking at Howard’s filmography. It blows my mind that she’s in Terminator: Salvation.

Tim has been alarmingly enthusiastic about movies ever since childhood. He grew up in Boulder and, foolishly, left Colorado to study Communications in Washington State. Making matters worse, he moved to Connecticut after meeting his too-good-for-him wife. Drawn by the Rockies and a mild climate, he triumphantly returned and settled down back in Boulder County. He's written numerous screenplays, loves hiking, and embarrassed himself in front of Samuel L. Jackson. True story.