“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” - Sun Tzu
Maybe I give some creators too much credit but I’d argue if I like something or someone’s work what’s so wrong with fangirling over them and their accomplishments? I’ve been a champion of Matthew Vaughn for a long time now and anytime I see his name next to the director’s credit I am automatically giving whatever the movie is a shot. The premises of his stories may not always be completely original or unprecedented but his approach for every project always has its own voice and usually it’s quite obvious that voice is projecting from someone who is clearly a fan of cinema and the magic it’s capable of creating.
Sometimes it’s nice to experience a recreation of something that actually happened and to see it made into a movie can be absolutely riveting. The biopics, the historical events all told from the perspective of those that lived through it can be truly stellar pieces of work. And then there’s the work of someone like Vaughn who sees the technology of modern tools of his trade combined with the endlessness of one’s imagination as an opportunity to create cinema that feels as if it’s something only possible in our dreams as we sleep through the night. Impossible physics, bullet-dodging super spies, twenty-minute freefall parachuting and of course saving the world repeatedly and very decidedly.
Kick-Ass, The Kingsman movies, X-Men: First Class all possess a quality of playful curiosity. He seems to think of sequences for his stories and then wonders what it might look like and so he goes for it. Consequences be damned. If that isn’t a recipe for something crazy, possibly a bit off kilter but undoubtedly filled with potential I wouldn’t know what a good movie is if it bit me on the ass and screamed my safe word (pineapple). I bring this up because his latest, Argylle, is his most creatively unhinged, absurdly outlandish jaunt into adventurous zaniness that he’s ever attempted. It is by no means a perfect execution but I’ll be damned if it isn’t an absolute blast.
Opting more for spectacle entertainment with Argylle rather than in-depth character development, Vaughn directs his cast of brilliant character actors and true chameleons to concoct this absurdity of cinema. Its greatest strength is its self-awareness of just how ridiculous this whole thing is. There is a sequence that involves a person “ice skating” in a massive puddle of crude oil using daggers for ice skates. And it’s unbelievably hilarious and undeniably cool. And it knows it. It’s fully aware that the whole thing is insane but if you’re open to it, it can be something simply meant to be giggled over and pointed at in agreement that this is just outrageous.
I think this is the biggest mistake of franchises like the Fast & Furious series that are replete with impossible, eye-rolling sequences surrounded by the most melodramatic line delivery and misplaced emotional weight worthy of a drama about cancer. I just saw Tyrese and Ludacris entering the stratosphere in a Pontiac Fiero but please try to get deep talking about the importance of family and loyalty and blah blah blah. It’s absurd for all the wrong reasons making movies like those the worst thing to happen to modern movies since Stephanie Meyer.
So much of this movie feels like a cousin to the Kingsman adventures featuring similar style action and pacing. The characters defy all logic much the same as any Kingsman agent. The villains feel as if they’ve had supervillain meetings with Sam Jackson’s Valentine and Julianne Moore’s Poppy. It all feels like the same universe much like the MCU but in this particular adventure the Avengers are sitting on the bench as the second string does their thing. But don’t worry, they’re every bit as capable and badass as Eggsy and Harry Hart.
Argylle is from the mind of Elly Conway, a famous fiction writer working on her fifth book in a series about the missions of super spy Argylle and his loyal team. What she soon discovers after the premiere of her fourth book (fifth book on its way) is that her ability to tell realistic tales of espionage is a little too accurate for the nefarious elite hellbent on world domination. Before she can catch a moment to breathe she becomes caught in a whirlwind of spy hijinks from those sworn to protect her and those with more evil intentions hoping to exploit her ability to practically tell the future of their impending encounters with the enemy. She is unknowingly a kind of Nostradamus of the spy agency world. And oh yeah, she has a cat named Alfie. That’s important I swear.
The story elements of Argylle are light on sense and can feel scattered. Sometimes it feels as if spectacle was made priority over anything resembling depth or story development. It’s spy v spy and that’s basically it. For some this might make it feel like a shell of a story that could have been more substantial. For me, myself and I it was exactly as advertised and that’s perfectly fine. For me it didn’t need to be anything more than the visual spectacle that it is and believe me when I say, Argylle is filled with insane sequence after insane sequence.
It’s a ton of fun, mostly empty of story elements and runs a bit too long but makes up for it with hilariously impossible action sequences and a cast that is clearly having an amazing time. Bryce Dallas Howard delivers the most badass performance of her entire career. Sam Rockwell continues to prove he’s one of the best actors working today. He is fast and violent as his spy alter ego and helps Howard shine even more as her zany counterpart. Vaughn really stretches our willingness to go along with such craziness but somehow maintains the line by always making the characters aware of what’s happening and how impossible the whole thing really is. He knows it’s ridiculous, but, so what? He’s going to do it anyway. Argylle feels like one giant "fuck it."
Rated PG-13 For: strong violence and action and some strong language
Runtime: 139 minutes
After Credits Scene: Mid-credits, yes. (And it’s a doozy!)
Genre: Action, Thriller, Comedy
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Henry Cavill, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Out of 10
Story: 7/ Acting: 8.5/ Directing: 8/ Visuals: 9
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below: