January 31, 2024
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and behold one of the unexplained mysteries of the universe! What I present to you on the screen is a cat. But it’s also not a cat. It walks like a cat, talks like a cat, and has the overall presence of a cat. And yet, any time you look into its eyes, you are unable to detect any semblance of a soul. How can this be, you ask? The foremost scientists of our time have been unable to determine that answer, nor have they been able to ascertain an answer for why it exists. Did the producers of Argylle not think that cats already exist, and can be trained? Did they recently watch Tom Hooper’s Cats and think that they could go even further down the uncanny valley? Or are they modern Robin Hoods and decided to waste millions of dollars of Apple’s money on something so monumentally stupid? I leave all these questions up to you, ladies and gentlemen. But be warned, the journey to acquire the knowledge that you seek will not be as fun as the marketing would have you believe.
A fully CGI cat is only one of several frustrating peculiarities within the freak show brought to us by the “twisted mind” of Matthew Vaughn. At this point, I’d suggest replacing “twisted” with “childish” or “immature.” “Edgy” would also be a good substitute, but only in the context of a twelve-year-old who thinks of themselves as edgy when they tell their first joke that involves swearing or sex.
“Original,” however, is a word I would not use for Vaughn or Argylle, no matter how much they try (and let me tell you, they try A LOT) to make you think they’re one step ahead. In an opening almost ripped straight from Austin Powers in Goldmember (we’re really stealing from the cream of the crop here); we see Henry Cavill sporting one of the most hideous hairstyles in modern cinema, right up there with Taylor Lautner’s flowing locks from Twilight and Nicolas Cage’s from Con Air. He’s on the trail of Lagrange (Dua Lipa), but his role gets flipped to prey once she catches him in a trap. With the help of his two sidekicks (John Cena, Ariana DeBose), Argylle escapes and gets one step closer to solving the ultimate conspiracy.
But scratch all that, as Agent Argylle is only a story within a story. The topmost layer has Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) the author of Argylle’s adventures, a series in a long line of successful spy novels. For some reason, almost everything that Elly writes comes true, leading to her life being in danger once a rogue spy syndicate decides to silence her. The only source of help to keeping Elly safe and finding out the full truth is a good spy named Aidan (Sam Rockwell), who claims to know more than he lets on.
It’s not that the plot of Argylle is confusing, it’s more that it never registers as interesting or sensical. There’s a lot of moving pieces, but the thread that connects them all together is embarrassingly thin. Before you have time to raise your hand and question why anything is happening, writer Jason Fuchs takes a hard pivot for another “out of this world” twist. The unpredictability of everything becomes tiringly predictable, and even more annoying.
What’s also predictable is Vaughn’s staging of the action, which contains no fewer than five set pieces queued to clichéd 60s tunes. To give him credit, one of those scenes contains some nice visual flourishes and choreography. But the rest are bogged down by either horrendous CGI or excessive editing. I’m sure with $100+ million at his disposal, there wasn’t much from Vaughn’s imagination that couldn’t be filmed. But the real question was if he should, not if he could. And the vast majority of this shouldn't have left the brainstorming session.