Friday, February 2, 2024


 by Rob DiCristino

Another aggressively stupid movie from Matthew Vaughn! Surprise!

There was a period in the early 2010s when it seemed as though Matthew Vaughn was poised to spark a new renaissance of R-rated action comedies. The one-two punch of Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service, especially, felt like a cunning blend of Quentin Tarantino’s genre savvy and Guy Ritchie’s slick and satisfying kinetic sensibilities. Those early Vaughn films (including more earnest exercises like Layer Cake and X-Men: First Class) had a cheeky self-awareness that was nonetheless genuine in its ultimate delivery; Vaughn was clearly a well-studied cinephile eager to take his favorite genres to the next level. He was one of us. An acolyte. A believer. There was a whiff of Joe Rogan-y aggro bullshit here and there (Especially in that first Kingsman movie, which lacks the political fluency that god gave to Reese’s peanut butter cups), but Vaughn seemed to be fighting the good fight in those days when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was dominant, giving us new and (mostly) unique cinematic treats that would surely age into neo-cult classics.
As time went on, though, it began to feel as though Vaughn had far less to bring to the party than he’d led us to believe. Aside from the Kingsman sequels — the exhausting, self-indulgent messes that they are — Vaughn seemed to have made a comfortable pivot to the producer’s chair, scattering advisory contributions across prestige entries like 2019’s Rocketman and more modest genre efforts like 2021’s Silent Night. But 2024 finds him back with Argylle, a — wait for it — spy thriller that mixes navel-gazing humor and gratuitous violence! This time, though, there’s a twist. Follow me carefully: Jason Fuchs’ screenplay is apparently based on the recently-released fourth book in the Argylle series, the first three of which do not actually exist. Alleged novelist Elly Conway doesn’t seem to exist, either (She may or may not be Taylor Swift), which has led internet sleuths to conclude that this entire thing is a ploy engineered by Vaughn and Co. to trick Apple Original Films into spending $200 million on a movie they’d ultimately release in February.

But the metatextual insanity doesn’t end there! After a boisterous cold open that pits the suave Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill) and his partner (John Cena as Wyatt) against LaGrange (Dua Lipa) and the evil Directorate, Argylle reveals that author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) is actually reading these exploits from her latest bestseller. As she struggles with ideas for her next volume, she’s confronted by the mysterious Aidan (Sam Rockwell), a real life secret agent who believes the fate of the world may depend on that next masterwork. He and handler Alfie (Samuel L. Jackson) are on the hunt for a MacGuffin that will reveal the existence of the Directorate (Or the Division. I don’t remember. Bryan Cranston runs it) to the world, and Conway must write the next chapter to uncover its location. Along the way, the mild-mannered Conway will discover her forgotten past, meet figures of international intrigue (like Sofia Boutella’s aptly-named Secret Keeper), and find an equilibrium between the real world and the one blossoming from her imagination.
Are you tired yet? Because that’s just the first half! What follows are double-crosses, misdirects, and other distractions designed to trick you into thinking Argylle is a dense and compelling espionage thriller. It’s not. It’s another one of Vaughn’s atonal nightmares, a symphony of masturbatory noise with only the most tenuous grasp on the satire it’s attempting. Straddling desperately between ideas that might work independently — There’s some juice in the Cavill/Cena bits, and we can only imagine the Stranger Than Fiction-esque hijinx that might have resulted from a little concentration — Argylle attempts to mash them together at high speeds, leaving Howard and Rockwell’s considerable talents out to dry. They’ve got a fun chemistry, and Howard comes to life in the second half (for reasons obvious to anyone who’s read this far), but Vaughn lacks the discipline to develop his ideas in a coherent way. Instead, most of Argylle’s two-plus-hour running time is devoted to bouncing our heroes haphazardly from one ill-conceived set piece to the next.
You might protest that all spy thrillers are convoluted — many of the Bond films from which Vaughn so lovingly draws are certainly guilty of that — but there’s a distinct arrogance to Argylle that compels us to hold it to a higher standard. A movie like Kingsman, for example, works because it couches its satire in a familiar world with a carefully-articulated set of rules that allow us to appreciate the degree to which Vaughn is upending them. Argylle, on the other hand, plays so fast and loose with its various realities that by the time Rockwell’s Aidan calls attention to a late-game lapse in logic, we’re forced to wonder where the hell he’s been for the previous ninety minutes. Vaughn expects us to be impressed by the laziest of narrative gymnastics, trying to have his cake while smashing it in the faces of audiences that routinely see more elegant plotting on basic cable. His whole schtick is tired, bereft of innovation or sincerity. You know who’d never put a cast this talented through a crass and lifeless exercise like this? Taylor Swift, that’s who.

The distractingly-misspelled Argylle hits theaters today.


  1. I usually love Vaughn's movies, but the trailer for this one never inspired me, and the title suck. Not a pass, but i'm in no rush to see this one

  2. I knew I could trust Rob to not have any patience for Matthew Vaugn <3

  3. Rob DiCristino - the man who sacrifices himself so the rest of us remain sane. Thankyou!