Arts

Argylle: When movie superstars overshadow storytelling

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Argylle is an example of misplaced priorities and their consequences. PHOTO | STANSLAUS MANTHI | NMG

The official poster for this movie is a lie. 

This movie is an example of misplaced priorities and their consequences. It has one of the most star-studded casts of the year, featuring big names like Henry Cavill, John Cena, Sam Rockwell, Dua Lipa, Samuel L. Jackson, and more. We all know that such celebrities come with a hefty price tag. They may attract audiences and boost box office performance, but they don't guarantee the overall quality of the movie.

Imagine

Imagine you are an executive in a big Hollywood studio. You have to develop a project for a streaming service that will also have a theatrical release. You have a budget of $200 million. How do you spend it? Do you hire lesser-known actors with smaller paychecks and invest heavily in the production aspects, such as the visual effects, the art and costume design, the sound, the writers, and the storyboard artists? These are the kind of teams that will give you a top-tier product, an instant classic that will be revisited and enjoyed for generations. 

Or do you spend most of the budget on big-time superstars, such as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Gal Gadot, Zendaya, Robert Downey Jr., and others? They are the kind of actors that will bring attention to the product but at the cost of compromising the production quality.

You may end up with a mediocre product that will do well in the box office but will struggle after that, especially in streaming, because of its poor rewatchability factor.

Argylle is an example of a movie that takes one of the routes, lets talk about it.

Argylle

Argylle is a 2024 spy action comedy film directed and produced by Matthew Vaughn, who is best known for his work on the Kingsman franchise. The film is based on a novel by Jason Fuchs, who also wrote the screenplay. It tells the story of Elly Conway, a shy and reclusive spy novelist who discovers that her books have a connection to her real life. She then gets entangled in a global conspiracy involving a shadowy organisation called the Division, and has to team up with a charming spy named Aidan Wylde to stop them.

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O'Hara, Henry Cavill, Sofia Boutella, Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose, John Cena, and Samuel L. Jackson. The film had a budget of $200 million.

The good

This is not a serious film, though they try to make it one in the first acts. it revels in its comic book sensibilities and outrageous action sequences, just imagine a James Bond story in a Marvel comic universe falling in line with the Kingsman films from the same director. 

Alfie the Cat was an interesting addition to the film. While always in the background, the cat eventually plays a pivotal role in the third act. 

Choosing Mathew Vaughn as the director for this film was perfect. If you have seen movies like Kingsman, Kick-Ass and if you love the fast-paced action in those films, you will enjoy them in this one. There was a lot of effort that was put into creating exciting moments in the film.

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A standout is a train scene that creatively presents the action in a style that embraces the main character's state of mind (I'm trying to avoid spoilers here). But then again this comes with every Mathew Vaughn production. Oh! Alfie the cat actually belongs to him in real life. 

Visually, it is also really well shot. The wide shots for the establishing scenes whenever they visit a new city look fantastic. A stand out being Hong Kong at night with purple neon lights. 

The film's concept is a playful and irreverent take on the spy genre, offering a refreshing alternative to the more serious and realistic James Bond films. It does not take itself too seriously but rather embraces its absurdity and humour. 

The film's soundtrack is another notable feature, featuring disco songs from the 70s and 80s that add a lively and upbeat tone to the film. The songs complement the energy and pace of the action scenes, while also creating a contrast with the violence and danger involved. 

The film's art and costume design also contribute to its distinctive aesthetic, giving each character a unique and memorable look. Henry Cavill's character, for instance, has a striking silhouette and a wardrobe that ranges from elegant to eccentric. Dua Lipa and Samuel L. Jackson, who have cameo roles in the film, also sport cool and stylish outfits. 

The film's performances are adequate for its genre, but not exceptional. The film mainly focuses on the trio of Sam Rockwell, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Bryan Cranston, who play the main roles. Of these, Sam Rockwell delivers the most convincing and charismatic performance, bringing his character to life.

The Bad

This film is a prime example of how a story can be ruined by excessive and unnecessary plot twists. The first hour of the film is engaging and intriguing, as the audience is introduced to a complex web of espionage and action.

However, the film soon loses its originality and coherence, as it resorts to recycling clichés and tropes from other spy movies. The film becomes a self-indulgent homage to the genre, rather than a fresh and innovative take on it. By the third act, the viewer is left feeling confused and exhausted by the constant revelations and reveals.

As I mentioned in the opening, the film suffers from a severe case of false advertising, as it boasts a star-studded cast that barely appears on screen. Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose, and John Cena are all reduced to mere cameos, despite being prominently featured in the promotional materials (poster). Dua Lipa, has less than 20 minutes of screen time, while John Cena has even less. Ariana DeBose, a talented and rising star, is wasted in a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance. The film does not do justice to these performers, nor to the fans who were drawn to the film by their presence.

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The film's main antagonist, played by Bryan Cranston, is another disappointment. He is a bland and generic villain, who lacks any depth or motivation. He is simply the evil mastermind who orders his henchmen around and tries to look menacing. He has no character arc, has a limited backstory and the character is bearable because of Bryan Cranston's charisma. He is forgettable and interchangeable with any other spy movie villain.

The film's visual effects are also subpar, considering the film's hefty budget of 200 million dollars. The effects are noticeable and unrealistic, especially on a large screen. They look cheap and amateurish as if they were made for a TV show.

The film does not deliver on its promise of a spectacular and immersive experience, but rather a sloppy and unconvincing one, which goes to the scenario that I had set for you. This movie could have looked better if they spent a bit more on the visual effects rather than going for the super expensive movie stars. Their priorities were clearly misplaced with such a star-studded cast.

One of the only redeeming performances in the film is Sam Rockwell's as a quirky and charismatic spy. He brings some humour and charm to the film and steals every scene he is in. However, his character is often sidelined and overshadowed by the film's protagonist, Elly Conway, played by Bryce Dallas Howard. Elly is supposed to be the centre of the story, but she is a dull and poorly-written character. She is not compelling and her decisions are inconsistent. 

In conclusion

This is a fun action spy thriller that doesn't take itself too seriously, but the movie within the movie gets lost in its own games, thanks to a convoluted script and excessive twists and turns. 

With stellar action set pieces, thanks to good direction and editing, Argylle is one of those films that demands that you suspend your disbelief and just go with the flow, no matter how absurd some situations are.

I would wait for this on streaming because then it gives you the ability to rewind and try to figure out what is happening.

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