A film review by Cliff Homewood

Argylle is the latest film from Matthew Vaughn, a director who works best with screenwriter Jane Goldman.  She did not write this film.  Together they’ve given us Kingsman, Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class and Stardust.  They also gave us Kingsman: The Golden Circle, nobody’s perfect.  The third, The Kingsman, a return to form, didn’t involve Goldman.  A history lesson with jokes.  Now with Argylle, also set in the Kingsman universe I’m suspecting the Star Trek rule applies, only every other film is good.  There’s mystery around who wrote the book the film is based on.  The credited author, Elly Conway, is a suspected pseudonym.  And Matthew Vaughn nixed the Taylor Swift rumour.

I wasn’t sure whether to review this film at all, although a speculative fiction remit covers the fantasy genre, spy films usually do not count.  They are the fiction we like to pretend is the reality.  Unless the film includes a sci-fi element like Mission Impossible’s face masks (that also seem to change body builds!) Such is the case here, even referencing an old classic that is regarded as science fiction.  Although many would not class it as such.  It’s our accepting of fantasy as reality (if the fantasy is a piece of pseudo-science it then falls in the realms of SF).

Espionage is a network of moles doing boring paperwork deep-seated in various positions and feeding us information.  Lest us forget Boris Johnson, who refers to Africa as Bongo Bongo Land, was Foreign Secretary for a while and the country went to war over a student paper showing WMDs.  The whole thing is a mess.  Getting involved does not help, we either do imperial rule or we get back out and the country returns to the state it was in before.  We don’t help Palestine as Israel is an ally.  And we just provide Ukraine with weapons.

We ignore that the UK and the US are two of the world’s biggest arms dealers.  We will happily sell weapons to countries but if they then use them, we condemn them.  The CIA have been known to run drugs to make money to support or depose foreign regimes.  We don’t care if they’re Dictators as long as they’re West friendly: allowing access to oil.  The real life spy’s environment is complex and interesting but we prefer to portray the simple fantasy of we are good, others are bad.  Instead of asking, “excuse me, are these our good guy drug dealers or bad ones?” Or “is this one of our terrorist cells trying to topple a foreign regime please?” (Fidel Castro, after yet another failed attempt is purported to have written to the US President, please stop these assassination attempts otherwise I will do it to you and I will do it properly.)  With the exception of films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Bridge of Spies and Tom Cruise’s American Made we prefer the fantasy.  Bond can run on water, via conveniently placed crocodiles.  They feed us dumb entertainment and we like it that way.

Argylle’s trailer was not impressive, it felt old hat.  We’ve recently had the ‘fight on a train’ trailer with Bullet Train.   Argylle’s story of a writer being stuck with the real life equivalent of her romanticised hero feels too clichéd.  Recently we’ve had The Lost City with a very similar plot.  It’s not surprising Argylle has flopped, it seems to go out of its way to riff off underperforming movies.  Henry Cavill is stuck with a bad haircut as the idealised hero, and Henry Haircut is hardly in the film.  Dallas Bryce Howard, who like her dad Ron Howard, can effortlessly carry the lead, is stuck with the real-life equivalent Sam Rockwell.  It feels like it could be a Hitchcock thriller with its twists and turns, but he would have made it more believable.  Matthew Vaughn can direct great action sequences, the smoke filled finale is impressive, but he is not good at grounding a story.

The film starts promisingly with Henry Haircut in a bravado Bond-style chase.  It’s unbelievable but fun, the secret to Bond is that we enjoy his exploits even though we know they’re not realistic.  For the first hour I enjoyed the ride, but then it slowed down.  That’s a risk when doing such a tap dance, you don’t want your souffle to deflate (Hey, did I mix a metaphor?  Go me!)  This changing of pace was coupled with a hard to believe situation; when the Intelligence Agencies turn to our writer hero and say, ‘we don’t know what to do, you’re the one with the imagination, you tell us’.  Once you have lost your belief in a film its hard to get back and I watched the rest through glazed eyes.  There are plot twists later that help explain the earlier situation but by then the harm had been done.  The film is far fetched and the guffaw level unbelievable.  The film has to maintain its exciting edge of your seat pace to keep those plates spinning (I wonder how many metaphors I can fit in?)  Alas although the second half contains some quite impressive twists, ennui had set in.  The film had started to feel like an intelligence test which you’d need a cat brain to enjoy.  A shame, as we don’t get enough films with female leads.

Argylle is a bit woolly.  An enjoyable first half but the second starts to drag as the unbelievability piles up.