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Review: “Argylle”

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Apple TV

The Apple Original spy comedy Argylle released on February 2, recording an opening weekend box office of $18 million that did not live up to its $200 million budget. From Matthew Vaughn of the Kingsman trilogy, the film follows the spy thriller writer Elly Conway. She becomes the target of an international crime organization after her acclaimed series began to predict espionage developments. The film walks a fine line between meta-comedy and plain cheesiness; most of the lines can be interpreted as the writer nodding at spy tropes, but some are so egregious that one wonders if Argylle ever remained in the mold of homage comedy.

Bryce Dallas Howard stars as Elly, an unlikely heroine in a genre historically saturated with the “Bond Girl” trope. These hypersexualized characters – think any of the main female leads in the pre-No Time to Die Bond films – have been criticized throughout the years for their one-dimensionality and misogynistic portrayals. Although Elly initially reacts to the chaos with nervous breakdowns and panic, she begins to take initiative and fend for herself in this spy thriller brought to life. Sam Rockwell’s Aiden is also endearing, more than any male model casting of a debonair spy (a trope for which the film enlists Henry Cavill). He could be mistaken for a baseball dad with his stubbled chin and snarky dad-jokes. He uses this characteristic to his advantage to sell his covers better as a spy. These castings mesh well together, 

Unfortunately, this is where things get messy, soon after the audience settles into this story of the unlikely heroes. The plot devolves into an amalgamation of tropes – frustratingly slow download timers for critical data, drawn-out slow motion gunfights with a twist (in this case: figure skating combined with vatloads of petroleum) . The second half of Argylle is reminiscent of the Kingsman trilogy (which was also directed by Matthew Vaughn) in its over-the-top action. The difference is that in Argylle, Vaughn seems to lose his footing of what he set out to accomplish. The writing blurs the line between homage and pale imitation as it fumbles to resolve plot conflicts and maintain cohesion.

As the story progresses, audiences are likely to find themselves swinging back and forth between bemusement and boredom at the writing style. Perhaps the tried and true dialogue is part of the film’s charm, a homage to the tropes of the best spy films — even if the execution isn’t as subtle as the onscreen spies. It’s also noteworthy how despite Cavill being a minor “fictional” character in Argylle, the film can’t seem to shake its label as a “Henry Cavill spy movie” in the media prior to and after its release. The real stars of this show are Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell. Spy thrillers’ crutches of sexy and suave protagonists seem to remain, even when the film is dedicated to subverting that stereotype.

Argylle had potential, but it couldn’t establish its particular tone of humor well in the way that Vaughn’s previous spy films did. The viewer will have to decide for themselves whether they can enjoy the chaotic film for what it is, or the enduring tropes prove themselves too distracting.

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About the Contributor
Taizo Nakayama, Deputy Online Manager | Entertainment Editor
Taizo Nakayama is a senior with a passion for astrobiology, a field where people look for little green people in space. He enjoys critiquing sci-fi films in lengthy blog posts and writing flash fiction; the lack of required commitment to worldbuilding appeals to him.  
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