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Obvious CGI outweighs performances in ‘Argylle’

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Courtesy of Apple
LaGrange (Dua Lipa) and Argylle (Henry Cavill) dance the night away in “Argylle.”

Based on a recently published novel of the same title, the film “Argylle,” released on Feb. 2, follows the journey of fictional author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) as she discovers that her spy novels seemingly possess a fortune telling power for actual spy missions. 

Elly — an introverted, quirky home-body and quintessential cat lady — befriends a dad-joke-loving spy named Aiden, who has been pursuing efforts to destroy an international espionage organization called the Division. In order to dismantle the Division, Elly must write the next chapter of her latest book and determine an ending much larger than that of her fiction spy-thrillers. 

Elly is bombarded with another surprise: her real name is Rachel Kylle (or R. Kylle), a former CIA operative turned spy who was brainwashed and recruited by the Division. The psychic properties of Elly’s novels are simply Rachel’s memories and prior knowledge. 

If that wasn’t shocking enough, Elly/Rachel’s own “mother” Ruth is truly a Division spy who brainwashed her into her authorship life alongside one of the leaders of the Division, who acted as Elly’s father.

Howard’s character then switches back and forth between identities to attack the Division with Aiden — and her cat, Alfie — while rediscovering the prior life that was taken from her. Howard flawlessly nails the performance of both Elly’s fragile innocence and Rachel’s fearlessness. 

From the start, “Argylle” draws aesthetic intrigue with creative transitions and cuts, such as the close-up shot of Agent Argylle’s yellow, foamy beer glass fading into the yellow argyle print title screen. “Argylle” also plays with shape and color throughout the film, constructing a game of I-Spy (no pun intended) for audiences who are otherwise uninterested in de-scattering the plot. There are multiple hidden diamond shapes, as well as an emphasis on yellow, in the set and costume design. Lipa and Howard’s diamond-shaped necklaces, Alfie’s yellow collar, Ruth’s yellow argyle bookmark and even a diamond-shaped fire door sign serve as examples. 

This optic puzzle is also something that can be applied to the Apple product integration, which ultimately undercuts the quality of any tech-heavy scenes. Alfie’s yellow argyle AirTag, Elly’s yellow argyle iPhone case and the various Macbooks used by the Division to name a few examples. 

Director Matthew Vaughn is known for campy, theatrical storytelling displays. Unfortunately, this signature style of Vaughn’s serves as a cop-out for the obvious CGI and an abundance of overzealous scenes.  

For example, when Dua Lipa’s satirically over-sexualized character takes a summersault off her motorbike or when Elly’s signature feline sidekick takes a fall off a roof. Is the poor editing an attempt at replicating traditional Hollywood theatrics like Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” or evidence of a sore spot in priorities? 

As for scenes that do not rely on CGI, there is simply too much happening. For example, the ridiculously campy montage of Aiden and Elly dancing while holding machine guns, which rhythmically fire as they prance around rainbow smoke machines, or when Division agents slip on crude oil that Elly begins skating on like ice. “Argylle” commits to a high-strung tone only appropriate for a kid’s movie or a purely satirical spy-thriller. 

Just as Elly — or Rachel —  is lost within her own identity, the plot becomes lost within itself, too boundless to warrant interest from its viewers. 

With a runtime of nearly two and a half hours, “Argylle” views as multiple movies within one, whether it be the plotline of Elly’s books and her character’s identities in the real world or Elly’s discovery of her own true identity and using that knowledge to her advantage. For a movie with the tagline, “Once you know the secret, don’t let the cat out of the bag,” it becomes unclear what the punchline secret is supposed to be. 

Despite “Argylle” ultimately twisting a web of lies that gets tangled into confusion, there are moments of suspense and shock that serve as gems of hope to make viewers want to give it a chance. 

One of these moments is the redevelopment of Aiden and Rachel’s relationship. This connection was foreshadowed via Aiden’s many longing glances towards Elly that first serve as a reason to question Aiden’s true motives, but in hindsight, flags their deeper feelings for each other that were interrupted by Elly’s brainwashing. 

There are also many thoughtful transitions to connect Elly’s storytelling with the film’s reality, such as the words of Elly’s manuscript, serving as a background for a scene, falling off the page and off-screen as she rewrites, or when Agent Argylle’s dialogue is intercut by Elly’s voice feeding the script into his mouth, as the layered audio demonstrates the inner subconscious that Agent Argylle acts as for Elly. 

With an all-star cast of Dua Lipa, Samuel Jackson and John Cena to name a few; a high-profile collaboration between Apple TV+ and Universal; and a significant but unprecedented production budget of $200 million, the unknown origins of the literary predecessor of “Argylle” intrigued entertainment news outlets

At first glance, “Argylle” presents itself as a refreshing wave of original, playful content in an industry plagued by exhaustive remakes and sequels for built-in audiences. Sadly, it has no consistent purpose and fails to balance between tributing old Hollywood, Bond-like films and setting up Vaughn’s own place in the canon of spy-thriller classics

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  • C

    CatherineFeb 11, 2024 at 11:12 pm

    Laughed my ass off! Saw it once, then took friends to see it. (I had to preface my invite with, “The cat will be fine.”) The rainbow smoke/dance/fight was the chocolate covered cherry on top of the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me absurdity sundae. The ice skating? Whipped cream.

    If you’ve ever faced a blank page until your eyes are snow blind or had your characters rebel, you immediately “get” Elly. The desperation rewrite scene alone was worth the ticket price. And the “real life” plot within a plot within a plot was delicious.

    This would make a perfect triple feature with Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005 Jolie/Pitt) and American Dreamer (1984 Williams/Conti). As a matter of fact, once Argylle is out on DVD, I believe I will snag a copy, pop some popcorn, and have a delightfully silly weekend with the three.

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