Maybe spending a couple hundred million dollars for the movie rights to a spy novel from a first-time author, even before the book was finished, wasn’t such a great idea after all. In a totally predictable turn of events, the star-studded spy movie Argylle that director Matthew Vaughn promised would “reinvent the spy genre” has, in fact, lived up to the promise inherent in its super-cringe trailer. I, for one, knew it would be bad (as I wrote here); the only question was how bad — and, with the first batch of critics’ reviews having just hit the web, now we know.
One review has gone so far as to blast it as among “the most expensive worst movies ever made.” Among the other more devastating takes:
- The Globe and Mail: “Spy-comedy Argylle is so aggressively stupid it will make you defect.”
- The Daily Beast: “Its comic touch almost as heavy-handed as its slow-motion-drenched action is dull, it seems primarily designed to answer the question, ‘How many movie stars can one fiasco squander?'”
- And The Hollywood Reporter: “It all starts to feel like one of those very expensive, very elaborate commercials for a pseudo-luxury product you don’t want to buy — a perfume, perhaps, or some car.”
I could tell you I knew that Argylle wasn’t exactly going to be the next Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy when I saw that Dua Lipa would be part of the cast, but that would be a lie. It was the extremely banal story that gave it away, at least for me.
Elly Conway is the author of the book that the movie is based on, and she has so much chutzpah that she wrote herself into the story as a main character. The Conway in Argylle is presented as a writer of best-selling spy novels (lol) and is played in the movie by Bryce Dallas Howard. The main character in these novels is Argylle, who is on some sort of kooky mission to “unravel” a spy syndicate. But, uh oh, Conway’s books start to blur the line between fiction and the real world. The horror!
As of Thursday afternoon, Argylle has a pretty awful 36% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 124 reviews so far. To make a long story short, if you don’t mind an endless succession of distracting cameos, embarrassingly bad CGI, jokes that aren’t funny, thin characterization, and action scenes that have been done better in literally any other movie that you can think of — well, good news: Argylle is the movie for you.
As for the rest of us who prefer spy stories that have real depth, of the sort that you get from writers like Mick Herron and John le Carré, I can only surmise that maybe it’s not so mysterious after all why Conway has chosen to keep a nearly non-existent profile on the Internet (including an Instagram account where she reveals next to nothing about herself). If you love spy stories, take it from someone who’s interviewed actual intelligence professionals before and whose favorite TV shows are series like Tehran and Slow Horses — Argylle should be avoided like the plague.