Recent headlines on Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce have caused undue resentment toward the singer. Allegedly she pulls focus from the mighty NFL. Only that’s measurably untrue considering the camera only features her reaction for perhaps 60 seconds during a three-hour game. It’s odd something so brief can have such a lasting effect, at least for some rather basic, mediocre people.
I would contend this Swift effect can influence how we receive a film as well (though films are obviously quite different than a celebrity just existing, causing no harm). When “The Marvels” premiered, for example, the backlash was instant (again, for some), yet the actual “bad” parts (i.e., a musical planet, alien cats eating people to save them) grace the screen for maybe 10 minutes, if that. The rest of the runtime amounts to an OK experience hardly worth the high degree of ire.
It happens again with “Argylle,” a spy thriller both silly and mostly entertaining. For 90% of the film, the action and story work rather well. That’s to be expected of director Matthew Vaughn (“X-Men: First Class,” “Kingsmen: the Secret Services”). He knows his way around inventive action sequences and playful character exchanges.
It’s that 10% that doesn’t land. By any objective standard, shouldn’t that mean the film deserves a low A, not the 34% it enjoys amongst critics, according to Rotten Tomatoes? OK, that seems too high, but a score on par with “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and lower than “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is gatekeeper overreach.
Things start off quite well. Author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) finalizes the sixth novel in the “Argylle” spy series. Soon after, agents from an actual clandestine agency seek her capture. Apparently Elly has a knack for predicting real espionage events, and her latest fictional installment includes something true that draws the wrong kind of attention. Luckily Aiden (Sam Rockwell) single-handedly prevents this on many occasions.
The pair avoid a host of henchmen, snoops and muscle, all answering to Director Ritter (Bryan Cranston) while they also seek answers surrounding Elly’s involvement in all this hullaballoo.
Despite “Argylle’s” many flaws, some things work quite well. Throughout much of the film, Elly visualizes the characters from her books, including sidekick Wyatt (John Cena) and the 007-knock-off Agent Argylle himself, played by Henry Cavill sporting sinfully terrible hair and suits that have no business existing.
When Aiden saves the day, Elly even imagines Agent Argylle is the one protecting her, often with much more polished, poised performances. All the acting works. Then things get weird.
To start, for a film with an estimated $200 million budget, Elly’s cat Alfie shouldn’t invoke the CGI baby from the “Twilight” finale. Earlier sequences feel more organized, prior to the flick’s big outro. The action pieces are too big, suspended disbelief put on hold indefinitely. It’s the same kind of camp sensibility that took down “Thor: Love and Thunder.”
Vaughn has a reputation for a degree of camp, but that ending is just too much. The result is numbing. But hey, if you choose the right moment for a bathroom break, it ain’t so bad. I’m sure the intent is humor, but cringe instead occurs. And the only thing replacing cringe is a series of action sequences a bit too outlandish.
“Argylle” never establishes itself as a work obliged to realism, but the tone and precision of the first two hours goes away (it runs for around 140 minutes, about 25 too long). Along with silly action, “Argylle” sure enjoys a plot twist atop a plot twist. None are particularly clever or confusing. They just feel like one of many ways a simple story gets a touch convoluted.
For all that, I can’t say it’s a terrible way to spend your time. So much works for most of the film. It just loves the plot come the conclusion. I can understand why folks might peace out. “Oculus” is a great horror film until it taps out in the last five minutes. If that terrible 20 overwhelms the other two hours, that’s fair. But let’s put “Argylle” into perspective: most of the film works until the end.