Argylle (Christian Movie Review)
About the Film
Espionage is all about keeping a low profile and trying not to draw attention to yourself. Argylle may be a spy movie, but it’s anything but subtle and unassuming. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, who helmed the equally bombastic Kingsman films, Argylle is an over-the-top barrage of silliness, unrelenting plot twists, and spectacle. The film contains some amusing entertainment and effective jokes, but its constant attempts at humor feel forced rather than natural. With an unnecessarily long 2h 19m runtime, Argylle overstays its welcome. Argylle is not an awful movie, but it is too long and desperate to please to be a very good one.
The film’s premise is interesting. Elly Conway (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) is a popular author whose spy novels hit too close to the truth, resulting in her being pulled into her own spy caper. The story bears some clear similarities to the Sandra Bullock-led comedy The Lost City (2022), but the plot veers down enough unpredictable paths to forge its own identity as an original story.
Like most spy stories, Argylle doesn’t lack twists and turns. The plot twists come rapid fire, and the heroes rarely travel far before a shocking revelation dramatically recontextualizes everything about the mission and themselves. These twists are mostly successful, although the film’s full-fledged commitment to “unpredictability” and “shock value” comes at the expense of simplicity. By the end, the plot is bloated and convoluted, serving merely as a thread stringing together action scenes and surprise twists. As a result, the movie struggles to establish any sense of stakes or emotional connection and must repeatedly halt its forward momentum to explain itself after each big reveal.
Any faults the film has are certainly not due to a lackluster cast. Bryce Dallas Howard is effectively endearing in a role that requires her to showcase some drastically different personas. Sam Rockwell, who portrays the spy who sweeps Conway into the adventure, is enjoyable as well. Almost every character is performed by a recognizable actor. They all give solid performances, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that casting decision, but it is perhaps emblematic of the film’s approach: the prime objective is to deliver flash and “wow” factor.
Nowhere is the “crank the volume to eleven” characteristic more apparent than in the hyper-stylized action sequences. For example, one fight becomes a cartoonishly choreographed dance number and another features characters killing countless goons while figure skating through oil. It’s intentionally obscene. Whether the approach is effective will depend on personal tastes. It’s certainly creative and inventive, but it’s also a lot. The two action scenes described above happen within minutes of each other (and a third follows shortly after). The action is fun at times, but it is often a case of style over substance. There is no weight, stakes, or sense of real danger in the sequences. It’s pure spectacle, with good guys killing nameless bad guys in increasingly silly and over-the-top ways.
Near the end of the film, a character repeats the illogical series of events of one of the film’s plot twists and then exclaims, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!” It’s a meta moment in a movie filled with such self-commentary. Argylle doesn’t ask to be taken seriously. Instead, it fully commits to having viewers turn their brains off and embrace the unpredictably outlandish ride. From that perspective, it succeeds, offering enough amusing spectacle to keep it from being a total failure. Nevertheless, Argylle is never quite as clever as it thinks it is. Its plentiful silly humor feels forced almost to the point of desperation. The plot twists and turns are exciting in the moment, but the overall story is undermined by a convoluted narrative that drags on for at least 20 to 30 minutes too long.
Despite a promising concept and some fun moments, Argylle—like an amateur spy—fails its mission due to its lack of restraint.
Engage The Film
Identity & Truth
Argylle is more focused on whisking viewers off to the next ridiculous action scene than on delving into many thought-provoking themes. Even so, amid the plot twists and revelations, there is an underlying tension as the characters question who they truly are and whether they can shape their own identity.
While walking through a vineyard, Samuel L. Jackson’s character delivers a monologue about grapes, explaining that despite using the same grapes, wines from around the world have unique flavors. The reason, he says, is that grapes take on the characteristics of where they were grown (climate, soil, etc.). The speech acts as a metaphor for the larger question of nature v. nurture, with the implication being that people, like grapes, are products of their environment.
On one hand, this sentiment is validated. As information is revealed about the characters’ pasts, they feel trapped and conform to their previously established identities. On the other hand, characters also demonstrate an ability to change. In an early scene, a character describes climbing a dangerous mountain. Instead of focusing on the vastness of the mountain above or the deadly drop below, he fixed his eyes only on the truth directly in front of him. As with the grape metaphor, the speech has a wider thematic meaning.
Argylle does not directly touch on spirituality, but the theme echoes some biblical truth. Our past is a part of our story and our identity (Paul frequently begins his epistles by recounting his prior experiences). But according to scripture, Christians are no longer bound or defined by these circumstances (Galatians 4:7). Instead, we can embrace a new identity—our true identity—by focusing on the gospel: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).