Argylle: Henry Cavill’s horrendous spy romp has some of the stupidest action scenes you’ll ever see

Slapstick-driven: Henry Cavill in Argylle
Slapstick-driven: Henry Cavill in Argylle - Peter Mountain

It feels like an achievement of sorts that while no one in Argylle can actually pronounce the name Argylle properly, this would not make a list of the 50 most annoying things about the film. Still, it chafes the ear on a near minute-to-minute basis. There’s no stressed second syllable here: instead the whole cast comes clumping down on the first, like visiting American golfers who spent the last week in Glass-cow and are now passing through the western Highlands on their way for some mo the Lawknuss.

Not that this woeful espionage caper, directed by Matthew Vaughn from a script by Jason Fuchs, could be accused of going big on details generally. Its heroine, a mousy author called Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), has written a best-selling series of spy novels – which, in a feat of soaring laziness, are titled Argylle Book One, Argylle Book Two, Argylle Book Three, and so on. During a promotional tour for Argylle Book Whatever, Elly is accosted on a train by a genuine spy, Sam Rockwell’s Aidan, who informs her that her life is in grave danger because her plots are suspiciously mirroring events in the real world of global espionage.

How this can possibly be the case is Argylle’s centrepiece secret, and one which critics have (reasonably) been asked not to disclose. However, it doesn’t give away anything beyond a further glimpse of the film’s abject crumminess to reveal this narrative zigzag has simply been lifted wholesale from one of the of the 21st century’s most famous and widely beloved spy thrillers.

Essentially, this means the twist ends up being: “We have, in fact, just remade [insert title here] with jokes,” though said jokes hardly justify the effort, and largely for reasons of technique rather than taste.

Playing Conway’s imagined version of Agent Argylle himself is Henry Cavill – who, despite being at the front and centre of the entire promotional campaign, barely appears in the film. (The same goes for John Cena, Dua Lipa and Ariana DeBose: perhaps this is a twist too.) Instead, most scenes involve Howard and Rockwell running somewhere, while being pursued by some of evil spymaster Bryan Cranston’s goons.

The action is slapstick-driven, yet the set-pieces are all so transparently bogus – with fourth-rate CGI and actors’ digital doubles flopping about the place like haunted marionettes – that they play as insulting rather than outrageous. One, in which Howard clips SAS knives to the soles of her shoes and then supposedly ice-skates across an oil slick while shooting bad guys with a machine gun, is single-brain-cell stuff: you might as well be watching three minutes of Vaughn jangling some keys.

“I can’t believe this is happening again!” Howard screeches, while Rockwell dispatches another wave of nobodies to an upbeat pop soundtrack. Yet happen again and again – and again, and again – it does. Viewers who don’t stampede screaming from the cinema as soon as the credits roll are threatened with a prequel. If Cavill’s agent has any sense, his client will be in that one even less than he is in this.

In cinemas now