On the screen: Anticipated spy flick falls flat in unmemorable ‘Argylle’

Overlong and a little jumbled, the film fails to play to its own strengths

Perhaps the only person I can blame for my disappointment with “Argylle” is myself.

From the first trailer, something about “Argylle” captured my imagination — it came in highly anticipated — but when credits rolled, I was left far from satisfied.

“Argylle” is the latest film by director Matthew Vaughn — who previously helmed the great “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and its good sequels. It stars Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell — who are also great — and it features Henry Cavill in a bad haircut.

Further, it was the film’s central mysteries, the identity of “the real Agent Argylle” and questions surrounding the allegedly real author Elly Conway — whose unpublished spy novels are said to have inspired the film — that drew me in.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this film for months. I really thought it would be something radically weird and memorable. It isn’t that.

“Argylle” isn’t a brilliant redefinition of the spy genre. It’s also far from terrible — with fleeting moments of absolute brilliance lighting up the second half. It’s overlong, a little jumbled, and fails to play to its own strengths. The answers to its mysteries aren’t, ultimately, all that interesting.

The film follows Howard’s Conway, a novelist who’s found acclaim for her oddly prescient spy thrillers about fictional super-spy Agent Argylle. Unbeknownst to Conway, everything she’s written in her novels has really happened. She finds herself hunted by an international spy network called “The Division” after the ending of her fifth book threatens to expose them.

It’s a silly premise — one the film doesn’t lean quite closely enough into. A second-act set-piece where she writes a new chapter to illuminate her path forward is one of the film’s best moments. The idea of her fictional characters echoing her own actions is interesting, but quickly falls away.

On the run, she’s aided by a rogue spy named Aidan, played by Rockwell. The two race to stay ahead of The Division and unravel the mysteries behind Conway’s novels and the conspiracy that has the world’s espionage community on edge.

Howard and Rockwell, at the heart of the film, are great. Howard’s Conway is a reclusive author drawn far out of her shell — she has a very fun arc as she’s introduced to a world of spies and lies. Rockwell constantly charms as the goofy and brave Aidan.

“Argylle” has some fun twists and is kept afloat by Howard and Rockwell. Unfortunately, the film feels like it lacks a clear identity. During its roughly two-and-a-half-hour runtime, the film meanders through many of the spy film tropes that it seemingly wants to parody. It’s not an exciting and fresh take on spy films nor a fantasy about fiction come to life.

There’s fun to be found in “Argylle,” but its not the next big win from Vaughn that I had hoped it would be. It’s a film at odds with itself, but it’s a perfectly fine and functional spy flick coming out at a quiet time for the movies. It’s that, more than anything, that leaves me disappointed.

“Argylle” isn’t a garish disaster, it’s not an incisive and groundbreaking genre film, it’s just two and a half hours of espionage action with likable leads and interesting ideas spread a little too thin.

“Argylle” will open Feb. 23 at the Homer Theatre. Go to homertheatre.com for more information.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.