Directed by Matthew Vaughn (best known for his Kingsman franchise), Argylle is the story of reclusive novelist Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose popular spy fiction series relates the adventures of Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill), a spy who is betrayed while on mission and must go dark. But when a group of real-life spies comes for Elly, she’s saved by mysterious real-life spy Aidan (Sam Rockwell) – can she really trust him, though?
I’m not going to be the Grinch who spoils Argylle’s many, many plot twists – but I will say that I enjoyed the film much less after those twists were brought to light. In the end, Argylle is more about Elly than it is about Cavill’s fictional spymaster. But since Argylle is the character the audience buys into the most, Cavill’s backseat role is one of the film’s biggest flaws.
That said, Argylle isn’t all bad. It’s clear even from the trailer that Vaughn is doing a spoof of the James Bond/Mission Impossible super spy story, as he was in Kingsman. Argylle’s ‘90s Bond-style end credits song “Get Up and Start Again” sounds rather like Sheryl Crowe’s “Tomorrow Never Dies.” In fact, the fingerprints of England’s best spy are all over Vaughn’s spy spoof. This makes Cavill’s performance as Agent Argylle feel like an extended audition to play Agent 007, and honestly, I’m here for it.
James Bond was first revealed to the world in the 1953 novel Casino Royale, created to star in “the spy story to end all spy stories,” according to the novelist Ian Fleming. Known for his suave moves, daring escapes, and famous love affairs, Bond is one of the most coveted roles in franchise history, and Cavill has even auditioned for the role before. Throughout Argylle, Cavill’s performance includes elements of Sean Connery’s bemused Bond and Pierce Brosnan’s action-star super spy, bringing together some of the classic Bond characteristics. Argylle really shows that Henry Cavill is the perfect man to play Bond, not just because he seems like the perfect man, but because he can live up to the most iconic Bond men.
Agent Argylle Shares James Bond’s Sense of Witty Timing
It’s not spoiling too much to say that, throughout the movie, Elly sees Agent Argylle as if he’s real, punching real bad guys when she’s being saved and leaving Elly real clues to find him. In these moments of the film, Cavill doesn’t just appear capable and sophisticated – his suave moves and facial expressions are downright cheeky. He pauses in the midst of action, looking Elly directly in the eye, and always appears on the verge of a witty comeback or broad grin. Cavill’s Argylle often seems to be in on a joke that we – the audience – haven’t quite figured out yet.
Long before Casino Royale (2006) gave James Bond his tragic backstory, the early Bond films had this same air of humor, almost goofiness, which was best embodied by Sean Connery’s iconic version of Agent 007. One of the distinguishing trademarks of Connery’s Bond is his almost imperturbable sense of good humor. Whether he’s smirking over his favorite drink – a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred – or cheekily asking “permission to come aboard” after danger of drowning, the original Bond held things lightly.
This isn’t the first time Cavill has pulled off this brand of suave spy with a funny side. In 2015, Cavill played Cold War Era spy Napoleon Solo in Guy Ritchie’s The Man From UNCLE. Solo is a British spy whose comical love/hate relationship with Russian spy Illya Kuryakin makes their shared mission nearly impossible. With subtle, long-suffering sighs and glances of condescension, Cavill conveyed the same level of humor that can only come from one thing: a man who is confident in his ability to handle situations.
Agent Argylle Can Pull Off James Bond’s Complicated Stunts
Dancing with a dangerous femme fatale and escaping a roomful of firing rifles in a mist of smoke is all in a day’s work for Agent Argylle. Like any good spy, Argylle proves his worth through a series of high-speed car chases and sharpshooting. But what distinguishes Cavill’s Argylle from many other movie spies is how easy these action sequences seem to be for him. Hardly breaking a sweat, Argylle drives off a cliff in madcap pursuit of his target, never ruining his perfectly spiked hair and suit. And while these kinds of action sequences aren’t exactly new in the movies, the ease with which Cavill moves from one stunt to the next – including one where he lifts Dua Lipa in the splits into the air – is striking.
This ease hides the level of skill it requires to pull off such action sequences. In scenes such as the complex fight scene on a train earlier in the film, the scene cuts back and forth between Cavill’s fictional spy and Rockwell’s real-life one. The editing makes it look seamless, but in reality, the same fight scene needed to be recreated with both actors, who are of differing heights and strength (Cavill is 6’1” and Rockwell is 5’8”). But due to Cavill’s skill with stunts and action sequences, the scene cuts easily from one man to the other.
This style of high-intensity action sequences occurs throughout the Bond franchise, but especially so in the ‘90s Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan. Whether it’s fleeing an explosion on a set of skis to a motorcycle chase through the streets of Saigon, Brosnan’s Bond is full of the same kind of chases and fight scenes we find throughout Argylle. Brosnan’s action sequences are similar to those in Argylle in this way too – it never takes a deep-dive into the bloody, realistic action scenes of the later Bond films. I love a touch of realism as much as the next person, but at the end of the day, I'm partial to a thrilling action sequence where the hero can still come out looking good. Mission accomplished? Check. Tie still straight? Check there too.
This isn’t the first time Cavill has shown off his action star capabilities. In 2018, Cavill starred in another spy blockbuster, Mission: Impossible - Fallout, playing a double agent who strikes an uneasy peace with Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt. In one of the most famous scenes from the movie, Cruise, Cavill, and their opponent brawl in the bathroom, swing punches, and throw each other into the restroom walls. Halfway through the sequence, Cavill’s character shakes out his loaded fists, as if to recharge before reentering the fray. While the move looked awesome, Cavill admitted that it also served the practical purpose of warming up his muscles before another take of intense action.
Argylle may be a flawed action thriller that doesn’t make great use of its stellar cast, but the movie does one thing very well: show how perfect Henry Cavill is to take on the role of James Bond. Whether it’s his understated humor or ability to tackle complicated action sequences, Cavill has illustrated once again that we’re ready for him to take on the spy story to end all spy stories and play Agent 007 himself.
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