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REVIEW: While ‘Argylle’s’ threads might fray, the action keeps it together

Carljoe Javier

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REVIEW: While ‘Argylle’s’ threads might fray, the action keeps it together

DUA. Singer Dua Lipa in a scene from 'Argylle.'

Universal Pictures

'This is kitchen sink filmmaking at its finest, and it’s like five kitchen sinks in psychedelic colors'

Argylle (the film and the novel within the film) keeps coming back to its tagline: the bigger the spy, the bigger the lie. It’s cool in that it rhymes, even if I’m not sure it makes sense. 

I suppose that’s how I feel about the film too. It’s cool, even if it doesn’t make sense. And really, when it takes the big budget and access to stars that a film like this has and gives us some incredible sequences, whether it holds together or not, it’s well-worth a watch. 

What we get at the onset is a “spy movie.” I say that loosely because I think it’s worth thinking that the practice of espionage in works by John le Carré or W. Somerset Maugham, TV shows like Slow Horses and The Americans, and the Mission Impossible franchises, and Argylle director Matthew Vaughn’s earlier work in the Kingsman franchise, all count as spy stories even if they are all drastically different. Throw in Spy x Family and it’s hard to say what the “proper” components of a spy narrative should be. Except maybe just that you say that characters are spies and they deal in secrets. 

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I kept thinking where to file Argylle because you might think it’s a send-up of spy movies in the vein of Paul Feig’s Spy. While it effectively employs humor, I think it inhabits that space between action movie and pure fantasy fulfillment, as if the main character Bryce Dallas Howard’s Elly Conway’s novel were coming to life. 

I’ll try to reveal as few plot points or details since I feel there’s a lot of joy in seeing the different directions the movie tries to pull us. We have Agent Argylle (a perfectly cast Henry Cavill) on a mission, until we pull back to see that Argylle is a fiction, fabricated by Conway, brought to life in her novels. And what begins as a struggle to overcome writers block suddenly has her pulled into a world of actual spies and secrets. 

Part of the joy I find in spy movies, particularly ones that focus more on espionage and the psychological aspects of being in deep cover, is the way that details are revealed. We are forced to question on whose side people are on, and betrayal is around every corner. However, in Argylle, the reveals and reversals function much less like matryoshka dolls showing deeper layers to the game, and instead feel like we are just being whipped around (perhaps the same feeling that Conway has). 

This might be a problem for some viewers. Because…sometimes this thing just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Even if there is an explanation, it’s so crazy and far-fetched that if you were to approach it logically, and accept certain premises, well, I can’t even finish this sentence. In the same way that I have to walk away from that sentence, the viewer needs to either walk away from this, or wholly accept wherever this movie takes you. 

I will say that if you just accept it, there is a lot of fun to be had here. And the filmmaker is self-aware that they leave any connections to reality and move further and further into fantasy as the movie progresses.

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So if the betrayals and twists exist to move things along even if they don’t make sense, why keep watching? Honestly, because this movie is so watchable. Let me explain that a little more. There’s an energy and pacing and kind of madman aesthetic to it, that if you enjoy spectacle (and most of us do) you can’t help but watch and take it all in. This is kitchen sink filmmaking at its finest, and it’s like five kitchen sinks in psychedelic colors.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a sense of escalation from “realistic” action (though it’s never really realistic, but rather, say, more grounded close quarters combat in a train at the start) to over-the-top whatever you can imagine, and where Vaughn takes us is way out there, so far out and trippy. It’s the kind of stuff where I sat back and thought, no, he isn’t really doing this is he? Are they going for it? They go for it, and they go further than I expected. 

Again, it’s going to be a matter of taste if the over-the-top things-don’t-make-sense silliness is something that you as a viewer can put up with. If I am being offered a Hollywood blockbuster, I would want it to be something like Argylle. Sure it’s aiming to be a franchise and it hits all-too-familiar beats and story points. But it does it with a sense of playfulness and willingness to see how far it can go, testing the audience on what kind of ride we are game for. It might be predictable, might be cheesy at moments, but those moments are easily overshadowed by its big sequences and willingness to be crazy. – Rappler.com

Argylle arrives in Philippine cinemas January 31.

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