James Bond? Psh. The guy might as well be a valet attendant when you stand ol’ 007 next to Agent Argylle.
Yes, Argylle, he of the dimpled chin and towering physique, the sparkling eyes and the charismatic half-smile. He’s the handsomest, suavest, most lethal spy this side of a vodka martini—equal parts debonair and deadly, all wrapped up in one perfectly tailored Nehru suit. One look at the guy, and you’ll say, “Yes, clearly, this man must be a spy.”
And while all those attributes might not be ideal for, y’know, going undercover and stuff, author Elly Conway doesn’t care. And neither do Argylle’s legions of fans.
Yep, Argylle is a work of fiction—an invention straight from Elly’s surprisingly fertile brain. For four books now, Argylle has traveled the globe, solving puzzles, killing bad guys, wooing women and waging war against his sinister former syndicate.
A fifth novel is on the way—if Elly can just figure out how to end the thing. When Elly’s mother reads her draft, she gently suggests that the cliffhanger at the end feels like a copout. Your readers deserve better, Mom says.
But it’s not just readers who are hanging on Elly’s every written word: So is a shadowy, all-too-real syndicate. Somehow, Elly’s books seem to be channeling real clandestine happenings, right down to the winner-takes-all secrets that Argylle is chasing in the fifth book.
And that means Elly’s life is in danger.
Impossible, you say? Elly would’ve said so, too, right before she boarded a train to visit her mom and hash out the rest of the book. Right before the long-haired hobo sat in the seat across from her and (after a bit of small talk) told her as much. Right before every other occupant in the car started punching and kicking and shooting and stabbing—all clearly determined to end Elly’s writing career permanently.
Thankfully, the mysterious long-haired spy across from her—Aiden by name—was pretty good at punching and shooting, too. They escaped the train with their lives preserved, their limbs intact and Elly’s cat, Alfie, safely in tow.
But Elly wants answers. She wants to know why her fictional books are disturbingly close to fact. She wants to know why it seems like she’s fallen into one of her books—minus, unfortunately, the dashing, square-jawed Argylle.
Oh, well. Aiden might not dress to kill. But when it comes to actual killing? He seems pretty good at that part.
Elly is clearly out of her element for most of the movie. She’s a homebody prone to panic attacks, and she tells Aiden that she’s never even been on a plane before due to her fear of heights. Aiden not only keeps Elly physically safe, but keeps her moored emotionally, too. He sometimes offers bits of encouragement as they adventure together.
For instance, when Elly’s freaking out about a plane trip to London, Aiden tells her a story about a time when he was forced to scale a cliff-face—a task he was also scared to do. Aiden tells her that everything got easier when he stopped focusing on the “10,000 feet of rock ahead of me and focused on the three-foot space in front of me.” It’s good advice not just for Elly, but for all of us. If we concentrate on just the next step, the most daunting tasks can feel more doable.
Elly’s forced to get tougher as the film wears on, obviously. And in some respects, that’s a positive in itself. But during a critical moment, Aiden reminds her that kindness is a part of her character, too, and perhaps the best part.
Aiden and Elly visit a spy known as “the Keeper of Secrets” on the Arabian Peninsula. Her name stems from a passage in the Quran, we’re told.
In a scene featuring Agent Argylle (a passage from Elly’s fourth book), the well-dressed spy meets with a femme fatale named LaGrange. She dances sultrily in a shiny, gold, revealing, skin-tight dress. And when the two of them dance together, they engage in one particularly salacious dance move.
She’s not the only woman we see in a provocative gold gown. Another woman wears one that displays a great deal of cleavage (and a bit of leg). It’s also not the last time we see that salacious dance move, either. Characters engage in the maneuver (called the “whirly bird”) during critical movie moments, though the spin move is designed to draw laughs more than titillate.
A pair of characters discuss their longtime on-again, off-again relationship. (Though no one explicitly states the relationship was sexual, it’d certainly be a fair assumption.) We hear one person tell another about his longstanding love for her.
Two female characters have, apparently, a history with one another. When one of them makes mention of that history, a viewer might see the slightest suggestion that their relationship had a physical component. But the comment is so innocuous and ambiguous that it could be taken in a number of different ways.
In another scene from Elly’s books, Argylle spends time with a beautiful woman (and, presumably, an allied spy). The two stand on a balcony, and the woman invites Argylle to watch the fireworks from there. “I’ll show you fireworks,” he says, smooching her. Fireworks predictably explode in the background.
Argylle is given a couple of pecks on the cheek from rival female spies. Other characters sometimes smooch. Women wear somewhat revealing eveningwear.
Argylle, obviously, is an action film involving spies, assassins and nefarious organizations. As such, we see oodles of violence. Characters engage in sometimes ludicrous shootouts and physical melees, all of which leave countless combatants either dead or wounded. None of these deaths are particularly graphic, but the action is unremitting, and it’s impossible to detail every fight here. But here’s a rundown of some of the more notable sequences we see.
Early on in Elly and Aiden’s “partnership,” Aiden encourages Elly to stomp and crush some heads of their incapacitated opponents. “It’s great! It’s fun!” Aiden enthuses, telling her that the human skull is “surprisingly brittle.” He gives Elly step-by-step (or stomp-by-stomp?) instructions on how to crush skulls quickly and easily; Elly can’t do it, but when a downed assailant comes around, Aiden performs the boot-clad coup de gras off camera.
A massive knife fight features mostly bloodless fatalities, and we see both bayonets and knife handles jutting out of people’s chests. One person is tortured to give up information before being shot in the chest, apparently killing him. (A bit of blood is sopped up by the man’s cotton shirt.) Other people are shot in that region as well. A man is killed, off camera, with a shotgun.
People are thrown off ledges and through open windows. Elly and Aiden jump from a rooftop to a boat three stories below. Someone is killed with a chair. We hear about a near-fatal ice-skating accident and see (in flashback) Elly in the hospital. Someone is knocked out by a blow to the head. Grenades are thrown and blown up. A wild car chase leads to plenty of property damage. Someone commits suicide via poison.
Alfie, Elly’s cat, has been known to scratch, and he does quite the number on a guy who gets in his way. (Alfie’s life is regularly imperiled, as well, which might explain some of his rather antisocial behavior.)
One f-word and about a dozen s-words. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—” and “d-ck.” God’s name is misused more than 20 times—almost half of them paired with the word “d—n.” In one fight sequence, we hear an old disco tune with the refrain “Do you wanna funk.” The lyrics clearly intend for the listener to call to mind another word as well.
When Elly and Aiden visit someone in France, their host takes Elly around his vineyards. He talks about how the grape he’s growing there and, ultimately, the wine it becomes, takes on the characteristics of where and when it was grown. “You know what it’s been through” when you drink the wine, he tells her, using the wine lesson as a metaphor for how we, too, are shaped by our experiences.
A handful of characters are knocked out with some sort of sleeping agent. Characters drink wine and champagne. When Elly tries to tell her parents about how she’s suddenly being chased by professional assassins, her mother sadly says, “So you’ve been experimenting with drugs.”
When Elly freaks out over boarding an airplane, Aiden advises her that “drinking helps.” She refuses the offer, but she does drink some sort of concoction from a rocks glass. And later on, she’s quite disappointed when a critical spy meeting takes place in a “dry” palace, meaning she can’t steady her nerves with a slug of booze. Elly’s mom tells her that she stayed up all night reading her latest book—with the help of two Adderall pills.
It’s a given that every spy film you see will feature plenty of lying and subterfuge. That’s even more true in Argylle’s case, where betrayal seems like practically normative behavior.
With some notable exceptions, spy movies aren’t known for their gritty realism. James Bond drives invisible cars and hurtles off cliffs with a Union Jack parachute. Mission: Impossible’s Ethan Hunt wears rubber masks and repels down mile-high buildings in Dubai.
In some ways, Argylle makes these studies in escapism feel more akin to PBS docs.
Argylle is directed by Matthew Vaughn, the same guy behind the slick, silly and wildly problematic Kingsman movies. And like those Kingsman flicks, Argylle is—well, kind of ridiculous. But this review is remarkably spoiler free, given Argylle’s outlandish twists and turns.
Argylle doesn’t worry too much about its own outlandish plot, of course. It’s meant to be silly, and it proudly wears that silliness like a 6-year-old girl might wear unicorn-themed footie pajamas. It can be unhinged, and delightfully so. And unlike the hard R-rated Kingsman movies, Argylle shows at least a hint of decorum. The violence is unremitting but mostly bloodless. The clothes may be tight, but at least they stay on.
But really, that hardly counts as a seal of approval for Argylle. The body count would be enough to depopulate a European micronation. The language tiptoes up to the brink of an R rating without falling over.
Argylle may be restrained compared to some of its cinematic brethren. But the content found here might be enough to make some families long for an ejector seat.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.