Review of Argylle: Matthew Vaughn’s Meta Spy Comedy Launches Franchise and Fandom with a Bang

Bryce Dallas Howard and Samuel L. Jackson stand together at a desk in Argylle.


Bryce Dallas Howard in the Argylle trailer holding the book.

(Image credit: Universal)


Release Date: February 2, 2024
Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Written By: Jason Fuchs
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Henry Cavill, Sofia Boutella, Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose, with John Cena, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Rating: PG-13 for strong violence and action and some strong language.
Runtime: 139 minutes

There aren’t a number of films that register at the center of those two ends, which is something that Vaughn and writer Jason Fuchs seem to be trying to correct with Argylle. Starting a fresh theatrical canon in the world of cinematic dead drops, encoded messages, and blown covers, Vaughn and Fuchs open the door for newcomers to walk right through and enjoy with their collaboration. 

A meta-humorous romp that’s “inspired” by mysterious author Elly Conway’s first novel, Argylle stars Bryce Dallas Howard as a fictional representation of this supposedly very real person who becomes entangled in her own stories. With danger closing in due to Elly’s apparent gift of predicting geopolitical events, she’s not sure who to trust – especially when seeing her own fictional creation (Henry Cavill) appearing in her waking life.

Argylle definitely fits that bill, as it features PG-13 shenanigans that still retain most of the filmmaker’s trademark anarchic energy and color. There’s not one but two original songs that Vaughn has co-written to keep the beat turning in this exhilarating adventure, keeping in line with the man’s signature style. The Stardust director set out crafting this movie with his young daughters in mind, which means a change in tactics was in order. 

You can feel that Matthew Vaughn is holding back. When compared to the sorts of mischief the Kingsman universe trades in, watching Argylle might feel like a step back for more experienced genre fans. Nowhere is that highlighted more than in the complicated plot of the film, which seems to make up for the lack of raunchy humor by engaging its audience with a head spinning puzzle box plot. 

For better or worse, Argylle’s meta-mystery is a bit more complicated than expected.

A good portion of Argylle’s maketing has centered around the mystery of the “real” Elly Conway: the person who wrote the novel that apparently inspired the movie/character of the same name. Elaborate theories of who they could be have suggested everyone from Taylor Swift to Matthew Vaughn himself as being the person who created the fictional world, and so far there hasn’t been a straight answer or reveal. 

There’s up to three potential layers of reality that are at work throughout the adventure this movie walks its audience through. On one level, Henry Cavill and John Cena’s antics in the field make up Elly’s literary narrative. Meanwhile, in the “reality” of Argylle, Conway’s whirlwind adventure with real spy Aidan (Sam Rockwell) pits her against Director Ritter (Bryan Cranston) and the nefarious Division. The third and final level is perhaps the most perplexing, as it’s where both of those worlds overlap, forming what’s supposed to be “the truth.” 

Get used to that sort of thinking, as that’s the basic language of Argylle’s plot. Even in the face of huge reveals, there are quite a few questions unanswered by the end. Thus is meta in its own way, as one of the film’s trailers has Elly’s mother (Catherine O’Hara) putting her own daughter on notice for a “cop out” ending. Without any spoilers, I wouldn’t label this movie’s ending with such a harsh descriptor, as this is supposed to be the beginnings of a new saga in spydom.

With that firmly in mind, the potential for Argylle to confuse its audience with this bleeding edge of reality/fiction is absolutely a valid concern. There are so many twists to this story that while I didn’t expect a totally pat resolution, I was still hoping for more answers than what we got. Walking a line between effectively teasing you to ask about what happens next, but also being a little too coy for its own good, there is one huge net positive one can walk away with: the mystique of Elly Conway isn’t going away any time soon.

Argylle is a cleverly twisted ride that could be the start of something we’ll be talking about for some time.

I love that I could both predict some aspects of Argylle’s mysteries but can still ponder aspects and facets of this exceedingly meta story. And for the Matthew Vaughn charm to still scale rather nicely into a PG-13 context without being a cop out is a pleasant success to report. With an insane roster of actors that see John Cena and Ariana De Bose mixing it up with Bryan Cranston and Catherine O’Hara, the skill sets on display are as varied as the espionage classics that Vaughn and Jason Fuchs crib from for inspiration.

It’s admirable that Vaughn is opening his storytelling tent to moviegoers that might not be predisposed to enjoy his more risqué efforts, as well as those who might not consider themselves fans of spy thrillers. As a veteran fan of these sorts of stories, I get that Argylle may not have worked as well for me if I were a moviegoer with a relatively clean slate. But even with that noted, you’ll be hard pressed not to have fun while experiencing it all for yourself. 

Always engaging, even when it leaves you scratching your head, Argylle is as cleverly twisted as it is fast moving. Offering a solid foundation for a future that could take so many directions, this could be the start of a continuing brand that endures for some time. The questions it leaves in the air are tantalizing, as there are still a lot of answers left to be uncovered and at least three more novels for Elly Conway to deliver to the world. 

On the surface, this is a great place to start an education in Spycraft 101. However, I think that more experienced agents might get more out of Argylle over time, as there’s plenty to chew over on – which, much like Henry Cavill’s divisive flat top, will have audiences revisiting and arguing what’s really going on as they make their way out of the theater.


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