REVIEW: Argylle - pretty brainless for a film about intelligence

Dua Lipa and Henry Cavill in Argylle (contributed pic)Dua Lipa and Henry Cavill in Argylle (contributed pic)
Dua Lipa and Henry Cavill in Argylle (contributed pic)
Argylle (12A), (a whopping 139 mins), Cineworld Cinemas

Films in which an author’s characters come to life and lead them on an adventure are always appealing, and this one is pretty good – but damaged in the end by some pretty questionable choices. For a film about intelligence it’s certainly guilty of some pretty crass brainlessness which not even the quest for entertainment can wholly excuse.

The gist is that Bryce Dallas Howard is Elly Conway, the hideaway creator of a mega-successful series of spy novels. Despite the action-packed world she creates, all she really wants to do is curl up at home with her cat who rather bizarrely spends almost the entire film in a backpack. There are moments where you suspect he is having a rather better time than we are.

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But it’s clever stuff to start with. Elly’s problem is that somehow she is just so good at recreating a world of espionage, evil syndicates and covert operations that she ends up predicting what’s going to happen in real life – which makes her hot property when the goodies and the baddies want to recover a masterfile containing heaven knows what.

And that’s the point where her fictional creations turn on her and tell her she can do better – and then they drag her in. Or so it seems.

Meanwhile apparently real-life goodies and real-life baddies are after her, particularly Aiden (good fun from Sam Rockwell) who is seemingly out to protect her on a whizz around the world in which they are trying to stay a step ahead of the villains.

The neatness of the plot is that you soon start wondering just who Elly was and quite where she got her special powers from. All is revealed as the film twists and turns, fiction and reality ever more blurred and not even reality seeming awfully clear.

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But then something odd happens. There is a hideously-sick throwaway Dahmer line – and then, against a power ballad background and plumes of beautifully coloured smoke – it’s really quite the picture – Elly and Aiden with balletic grace and supreme artistry gun down dozens of villains.

What on earth were the film-makers thinking? It’s cartoon violence. Of course, it is. But are we really supposed to believe murder is somehow fun if you’re a big-screen spy?

And then it gets worse. Next up, in a vast room where crude oil is spreading across the floor, Elly with elegance and poise “ice-skates” round and round slashing everyone to death with hideous blades. If this is your idea of entertainment, then this is a film you will love.

Again, of course, it’s cartoon violence, but can that really excuse the fact that it is actually pretty sick?

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Imagination soars in a picture full of invention which steadfastly refuses to finish, but any doubts you might have had about it in the first hour and a half crystallise in sequences which are frankly horrid. And yes, I know this is comedy. This is make-belief. This is entertainment. But does that really make it OK?

Perhaps oddest thing of all, though, is that The Beatles’ Then And Now (how on earth did they manage to include it so quickly?) is something of a leitmotiv in the film – a film about then and now, so it’s certainly clever in that respect. But it’s a fabulous song and certainly deserves a far better movie than this one.