Action thriller Argylle might have been a magnet for big-name stars to join the cast - but if reviews are anything to go by, film fans are unlikely to follow them in flocking to see the movie, as it has been branded “unbearable” and “horrendous”.
Director Matthew Vaughn has racked up plenty of hits with his violence-heavy, darkly comic films including Kick-Ass, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Kingsman, but critics are in almost unanimous agreement that his latest offering does not achieve anything near his previous successes.
With a cast featuring Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Dua Lipa, Henry Cavill, John Cena, Bryan Cranston, Samuel L. Jackson and Catherine O’Hara, viewers might be expecting something a little more than one-star reviews.
But complaints include not allowing O’Hara any comedy lines, barely using Cavill as the titular spy, and being too heavy-handed in flagging up jokes as well as making liberal use of another film’s plot in a big twist that is being kept under wraps to avoid spoilers.
Elly Conway (Dallas Howard) is a spy novelist - and in fact, a book supposedly written by the character has been released simultaneously - who is approached on a train by real-life spy Aidan (Rockwell) who has some disturbing news for her.
He informs her that some very dangerous criminals who he has his professional eye on have been rattled by how her plots appear to mirror their real-life capers, and so begins a risky mission to try to escape the bad guys while working out what exactly is going on.
Critics have been left largely unimpressed by the action film - here’s what they had to say.
What the critics think of Argyll
The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin labelled Argylle “horrendous”, beginning: “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.”
He also criticised the film’s big twist and its close resemblance to another classic of the genre, which can’t be name for spoiler reasons, saying: “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.”
Another underwhelmed film critic was Jake Coyle at Associated Press, who called out the criminal underuse of O’Hara: “No movie genuinely interested in a good time would dare not give Catherine O'Hara room to be funny. All she needs is an inch.”
Coyle was no fan of the twisty storyline either, writing: “With enough plot twists to make a daytime soap blush, Argylle shows just how little that can add up to. You might think: spy movie, fun actors, pleasing diagonal lines — how bad can it be? As much as we all could use a fun movie for fun's sake, you, too, may have your concerns about the limits of such pointlessness around the time when Bryce Dallas Howard glides across an oil spill on skates of knives.”
Total Film critic Kevin Harley deemed the film too long, writing: "Lumbering beyond the two-hour mark, Argylle’s excess of overwrought climactic set-pieces make The Return of the King’s endings look sparing. One clumsily staged ruckus involving a multicolored smokescreen speaks volumes: even when the air clears, you’re left with the impression of a film lost in a gaudy fog of self-indulgence."
Manuel Betancourt at The AV Club felt Argylle was trying to be too many things at once, as “an earnest laugh and a sardonic stare”. But he thought: “In trying to do both—in trying to play it straight and yet show the very absurd mechanics of what it means to do so—Argylle lands in a kind of exhausting limbo, forever stretching its premise to its breaking point only to snap it back up again.”
Argylle didn’t fare much better at IndieWire, where David Ehrlich judged it a C+, writing: “Vaughn tries to squeeze a mote of visual invention from a limp and endlessly recurring bit about how Elly can’t tell if she’s being rescued by Aidan or by Argylle himself.” While he was more positive about the final reveal, he added: “But it’s too little too late.”
However, not all of the critics were so negative about Argylle, including Cosmopolitan’s Furvah Shah who was bowled over by the cast: “Argylle is a funny, feel-good, action-packed film that's hard not to enjoy. You arrive for Dua Lipa, but stay for the comedy, plot twists and slightly ridiculous yet amusing storyline that refuses to take itself too seriously.”
Meanwhile, The Independent’s Clarisse Loughrey didn’t exactly give it a glowing review at three stars, but wrote: “Its twists have that satisfactory, cheeseburger familiarity to them, while it wields Bryan Cranston and Sam Rockwell like a dual-pronged charm offensive.” She added: “The real selling point is a romance so dorky, sweet, and likeable.”
Over at Variety, Peter Debruge also felt the film just about came good in the end: "While common sense and good taste may resist Vaughn’s garishly over-the-top style at first, the movie eventually finds its groove...after surviving a number of near-death experiences, (Aidan) and Elly start to feel kind of cute together."
Argylle is released in cinemas on 2 February.
Read more: Argylle
Argylle branded 'abysmal', 'lazy' and 'very, very bad' (HuffPost, 4 min read)