Pop superstar Dua Lipa makes her big-screen acting debut alongside Henry Cavill in director Matthew Vaughn’s new spy comedy Argylle – but critics are slamming the “generic” film as a “pointless” parody that fails to live up to the charming works it imitates.
As Nicholas Barber reports in his scathing review for BBC Culture, the Kingsman franchise director once again indulges his love of James Bond pastiches with this meta tale of a shy novelist whose fictional super-spy creations begin bleeding into real life.
The plot kicks off with a traditional Bond-esque opening sequence depicting Cavill’s dapper secret agent Argylle enjoying a flirtatious encounter with an exotic femme fatale played by Lipa. After dancing and shooting their way through an action-packed fight on a Greek island, however, we learn these events are merely the imagined finale of the latest novel by introverted writer Elly (Bryce Dallas Howard).
Elly soon finds herself reluctantly teaming up with a real-life rogue spy (Sam Rockwell) on a globetrotting mission to find a mysterious “master file” before the forces of evil can weaponize her work – but critics blast the film’s fictional and “real” worlds as “cardboard copies” of classic Bond.
Shoddy Special Effects And Derivative Writing Undermine Premise
Barber argues that movie adaptation of Argylle novel completely wastes its “story-within-a-story” premise by making both its outlandish fantasy action and grounded reality equally generic, unrealistic and riddled with plot holes.
He notes the poor CGI and B-movie visuals, silly plot contrivances, laughable dialogue (“He makes Darth Vader look like Mary Poppins”), and failure to flesh out any characters or explain villain motivations. Neither realm feels distinct enough to justify the convoluted narrative gimmick.
“If the film’s fantasy is a cardboard copy of 007, and its reality is a cardboard copy of 007, why do we need both?” Barber writes.
Lipa’s Acting Panned As ‘Wooden’
He also skewers Armie Hammer’s forgettable turn as the bland villain and generic supporting characters who flip between being present and absent as needed. The script overall shows a “hazy memory of a Bond film” littered with recycled tropes and logical gaps.
Pointless Pop Culture Cameos
Director Vaughn packs in distracting pop culture cameos, including a prominent placement of the new Beatles song “Now and Then” years before its real release. Barber slams these “sacrilegious” references as “short of cash” grabs underscoring the film’s creative bankruptcy.
While Vaughn has suggested Taylor Swift may have ghostwritten the Argylle novels, Barber argues “the worst part is that, according to the internet, Vaughn has got another Argylle film and two more Kingsman films in the pipeline.”
More Hot Air Than Charm
Despite a cheeky premise mocking its own tropes, Argylle emerges as a disappointment that fails to effectively satirize or pay homage to classic spy adventures – or escape its own cliched trappings.
Rather than a clever inversion of genre expectations, Barber dismisses it as “shoddy and derivative,” adding:
“A Bond pastiche inside a Bond pastiche inside a Bond pastiche can’t be far away.”
While fans may be drawn in by the intriguing Lipa/Cavill pairing, critics agree this pointless parody offers more hot air than genuine charm.
Argylle Movie Facts
Big Budget Spy Spoof
With a reported budget between $150-200 million, Argylle is one of the most expensive spy comedy films ever made. The steep price tag covered extensive location shooting across the UK, Eastern Europe and the Middle East as well as lavish practical effects and action set pieces.
Living up to the jet-setting spirit of James Bond, the madcap script sends Lipa and Cavill’s characters on a whirlwind tour including stops in London, Transylvania, Morocco, Dubai and Singapore among other exotic locales. Critics argue the breezy travelogue backdrop fails to disguise the generic plot.
Vaughn envisioned Argylle as the start of an ambitious transmedia franchise spanning films, TV shows, books and beyond. The self-referential story about a fictional spy inspiring real-life espionage adventures allows endless spin-offs set in alternate dimensions.
Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer created a soundtrack that affectionately references classic spy movie themes. Echoes of Bond, Mission: Impossible and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. underline Vaughn’s referential approach.