Argylle: Matthew Vaughn Does It Again

L-R: Aidan (Sam Rockwell) and Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) in Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn. (Peter Mountain/Universal Pictures, Apple Original Films, and MARV)

Argylle offers audiences the first fun film of 2024 as filmmaker Matthew Vaughn does it again with a new spy thriller.

I went into the film knowing absolutely nothing. Lo and behold, it had my attention from start to finish. By this point, Vaughn knows the important ingredients of a spy thriller. What I didn’t expect was–well, if I told you, you get the idea. Maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t watch the trailer but I had loads of fun over the course of 139 minutes. If anything, it could stand to lose a few minutes here and there but the set pieces are just amazing. They are absolute works of art. In any event, there are a number of laughs. Is it a spy thriller? Yes. Could it be a spy comedy? Oh, certainly. Regardless, Vaughn and company know what they are doing.

I’m gonna have a lot more things–especially about the film’s music–to say underneath the below photo. But first, there is a mid-credits scene during the film’s end credits.

Bryce Dallas Howard as Elly Conway in Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn.
Bryce Dallas Howard as Elly Conway in Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn. (Peter Mountain/Universal Pictures, Apple Original Films, and MARV)

Spy thrillers, by movie law, must take audiences around the globe. This one does, except it comes from the mind of Argylle author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard). On the outside looking in, she’s just a reclusive spy novelist with no history in the field. The great spy novelists generally have some sort of espionage background. Not Elly or so she claims. She spends her days with her cat, Alfie. Elly is finishing the next book in her spy series but is having trouble closing it out. The plan is to head into the city and write the final chapter with her mother, Ruth (Catherine O’Hara). But before she ever makes it home, real-life agent Aidan (Sam Rockwell) meets her on the train and drops quite the bombshell. Her books are mirroring reality with Ritter (Bryan Cranston) and The Division chasing after her.

The film becomes a question of what is real and what is fiction. If Elly were a spy, what would she do? The way the film plays out, there are the book characters and the real world characters. Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill) frequently appears as her subconscious form. Could it be possible that Elly based her characters on real life? Is there more here than meets the eye? It’s as if she found herself living in a contemporary version of North by Northwest. Hell, Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell are not who I would think of when I hear the word spy. Rockwell is more of an everyman and character actor. It’s just on of many ways in which Vaughn takes a fresh approach to the spy genre.

Beyond the film itself, there’s a more interesting twist in that Elly Conway is supposedly a real person. Quite possibly a pseudonym for someone else. It’s not Taylor Swift–this much is certain. Maybe Elly is a spy in real life? Regardless, Jason Fuchs incorporates the novel into the film’s story but in a very clever and twisty way. In this way, it’s the jumping off point. This film is not the film that I expected it would be but it’s pure escapist entertainment nonetheless. It’s the sort of movie I might have found myself rewatching again and again during the pandemic. Granted, a certain Beatles song did not exist back then!

There are so many stunt sequences. Some of my favorites includes the murder ballet and the skating because of how they’re staged and what music adds in some instances. It’s about time that the Academy award an Oscar for Best Stunt Ensemble. They put in very hard work and are just as deserving of an Oscar as they are the SAG Award.

Now and Then: The Last Beatles Song
Now and Then: The Last Beatles Song. Courtesy of Disney+.

I never thought I could watch a Beatles song staged so beautifully outside of The Beatles’ own movies. What Matthew Vaughn does here is a work of art. The fact that they even include “Now and Then” on the soundtrack and repeatedly throughout the film is just absolutely amazing to say the least. It’s really key to the film, especially Elly Conway. If you know anything about The Beatles, their songs are not cheap but we have music producer Giles Martin to thank. Here’s Vaughn’s comments in the film’s production notes:

“I laughed and told Giles, ‘A) we can’t afford it, B) we can’t afford it and C) we can’t afford it. And Giles said, ‘How about D)? There’s a new Beatles track that might just work.’”

Giles Martin is not wrong here because it absolutely works and also brought a smile to my face. I’ve probably listened to “Now and Then” multiple times now. Surprisingly, no other song was working until Vaughn plugged it into the edit. No changes had to be made with the footage in the edit, which really says something about how the song works with the film. Furthermore, Lorne Balfe–the musical genius that he is–manages to incorporate the song into the film’s score itself. I’m not referring to the orchestra part in the song but Balfe’s score itself. One of the interesting  things about Balfe’s score and the film’s mixing is how songs and orchestra blend so seamlessly with each other. Balfe manages to outdo himself and I absolutely love it.

Another song, which could very well be up for Best Original Song later this year, pays homage to the James Bond movies by playing during the end credits. “Get Up and Start Again.” If you’re making a spy film and not paying some sort of homage to Bond, it wouldn’t really be a spy film. That’s not to take away anything from the film itself because it is not riddled with clichés. As far as music goes, Matthew Vaughn, James Gunn, and Edgar Wright might be having a competition for how they use it in their films. But again, you can never go wrong with The Beatles. The four lads from Liverpool gave us tons to enjoy.

Argylle is a rocking fun time with lots of action and an excellent use of music. Please see this film in a theater if you can because watching at home just isn’t the same.

DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn
CAST: Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Henry Cavill, Sofia Boutella, Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose, with John Cena and Samuel L. Jackson

Universal Pictures and Apple Original Films will release Argylle in theaters on February 2, 2023. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.