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Argylle review: Taylor Swift is all over this silly spy romp (which she may or may not have secretly written)

Bryce Dallas Howard, Henry Cavill, Dua Lipa and the cutest cat in the world – together at last! – star in Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Kingsman’-esque caper, which is pleasingly, surprisingly charming

Clarisse Loughrey
Thursday 01 February 2024 11:45 GMT
Argylle trailer

There is a persistent and wildly unfounded rumour – based on a handful of visual coincidences, such as the hairstyle of its main character – that Taylor Swift secretly wrote the new spy comedy Argylle. The rumour will not be quashed, unfortunately, once fans actually see the film. Echoes of the pop star are all over it, from a pivotal action scene decked out in rainbow-coloured smoke bombs that detonate in perfect, heart-shaped patterns, to a Scottish fold cat (the breed favoured by Swift) peering out, doe-eyed, from a designer backpack. In short, this is what would happen if you gave her Lover era a gun and a Kevlar vest.

Swift’s been pinned as the possible true identity of author Elly Conway, whose debut novel director Matthew Vaughn supposedly acquired for adaptation back in 2021, and handed over to screenwriter Jason Fuchs. Elly Conway is also the protagonist of Argylle, and played by Bryce Dallas Howard as the nicest lady you’ve ever met. Vaughn’s film isn’t really an adaptation of anything, but a meta-story in which Elly, in a serious state of writer’s block, finds that her fictions have started to bleed into reality. Suddenly, she can’t seem to escape her square-jawed hero, Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill, whose Vanilla Ice haircut and Nehru jacket make him look like an over-rendered Street Fighter avatar).

As Vaughn has pointed out, the film’s trailers only encompass the first 28 minutes of Argylle. And its mille-feuille of twists will only truly be satisfied if you also read Conway’s real, accompanying novel, watch the sequel and the spin-off television series, and also, presumably, keep up-to-date with any future instalments of the director’s Kingsman franchise (Argylle takes place within the “Kingsman universe”, though I won’t spoil here if the connection is made concrete).

It’s a film predicated on audience engagement and on its slew of algorithm-friendly mysteries. Is there a real Elly Conway? What’s the truth about Agent Argylle? And who gave Henry Cavill that haircut? Yet, despite the barefaced cynicism, choppy CGI, and aggressive number of celebrity cameos (including a reunion for Barbie’s Dua Lipa and John Cena), Argylle walks away from its narrative snake pit looking relatively unpunctured.

Its twists have that satisfactory, cheeseburger familiarity to them, while it wields Bryan Cranston and Sam Rockwell like a dual-pronged charm offensive. Cranston is in the villain role as the head of the ominous and vague Division, and he roars his monologues like he’s just won the Tony for a revival of Glengarry Glen Ross. Rockwell stars as the anti-Agent Argylle, a real spy who shuns both suits and chivalry. He’s posited as the rough-and-ready grump, yet, because he’s played by Rockwell with an eager grin and a soft heart, he’s by far the most charismatic person in the entire film.

Bryce Dallas Howard (and cat) in the spy comedy ‘Argylle’ (Universal)

Together, Rockwell and Howard share the kind of prickly, electric romance – animosity giving way to lingering glances and near-kisses always interrupted at the last second – that barely exists now that we’ve lost our hold on the concept of “movie star”. Beyond them, Argylle’s hard to separate from the rest of Vaughn’s oeuvre, since its action sequences follow the same formula: press play on some funky tune (here, there are special contributions from Boy George and Ariana DeBose, who appears as Argylle’s techie sidekick), attach the camera to every fist and bullet, and then hold on for dear life. The real selling point is a romance so dorky, sweet and likeable that, well, maybe only Taylor Swift could have written it.

Dir: Matthew Vaughn. Starring: Henry Cavill, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose, John Cena, Samuel L Jackson. 12A, 139 minutes.

‘Argylle’ is in cinemas

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