How Argylle Director Matthew Vaughn Feels About The Movie's Terrible Reviews

Matthew Vaughn is a savvy filmmaker who should know his films, particularly when they go sailing over the top narratively and tonally — which describes pretty much all of them save for his 2004 debut directorial effort, "Layer Cake" and the open-hearted whimsy of "Stardust" — tend to divide critics. You either go with the rousingly ultraviolent superhero satire of "Kick-Ass," or you rage against its vile excesses, chief among them being the transformation of an 11-year-old into a gun-wielding, slicing-and-dicing whirlwind of death known as Hit Girl. He specializes in juvenile subversion, but if you can get past the giddy excess of his films, they occasionally contain a surprising degree of thematic depth.

Vaughn's 2024 flop "Argylle" was not, on any level, a thoughtful film. It's a star-studded stew of a spy-comedy romp that's meant as a one-and-done spinoff from the director's largely successful "Kingsman" franchise. On the surface, given its colorful assortment of celebrities (Sam Rockwell, Catherine O'Hara, John Cena, Samuel L. Jackson, and pop sensation Dua Lipa), you walk in with the sense that this might be an anything-goes goof like the 1967 "adaptation" of "Casino Royale" (a senseless melange that featured David Niven and Woody Allen playing James Bond), but "Argylle" has a little more on the ball script-wise than that frivolity.

"Argylle" is a knockabout near-spoof that lands somewhere in the neighborhood of Michael Lehmann's "Hudson Hawk." And like that 1991 box office misfire, it was unfairly savaged by, according to Rotten Tomatoes questionable metrics, a majority of critics.

I don't think "Argylle" is a misunderstood classic like "Hudson Hawk," but I do believe it deserved better than it got from reviewers worldwide. So, too, does Vaughn, who was taken aback by the critical opprobrium the film received.

From ecstatic test screenings to extreme critical invective

According to an interview with Vaughn in the latest issue of Empire, "Argylle," which finds a mousy spy novelist (Bryce Dallas Howard) thrust into a genuine, head-spinning tale of international espionage, appeared at first to be a return to from-the-hip form for the film. As Vaughn told Empire:

"We had done test screenings that had gone fantastically well. The premiere was a really fun night, and it was like going back to the 'Snatch' days [the 2000 Guy Ritchie crime comedy produced by Vaughn] where there was such excitement. And I started drinking the Kool-Aid. It's a fun, feel-good movie, or I thought it was a fun, feel-good movie. All the interviews I did, people seemed to have a good time. We didn't make 'Citizen Kane,' but f***ing hell..."

F***ing hell indeed. Here's a quick sampling of the critical vitriol directed at "Argylle:"

"What you're left with as the credits roll is just the realization that time keeps marching on — and you've just lost 139 minutes of it." – Alissa Wilkinson, The New York Times

"If you're looking for a movie that will follow at least its own internal logic 'Argylle' ain't it. The film is a wreck." – Wenlei Ma, PerthNow

"It feels like an achievement of sorts that while no one in 'Argylle' can actually pronounce the name Argylle properly, this would not make a list of the 50 most annoying things about the film." – Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph (UK)

Ow. So how did this make Matthew Vaughn feel?

It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward

"That took me by surprise," he told Empire. What shook him up wasn't just the extremely negative reaction; it was the fact that Apple had spent $200 million on the movie, and it was being outright rejected by a majority of reviewers. Per Vaughn:

"[Y]ou don't want to let financiers down, and partners down, and Apple down. They took a big swing on us. I even went round to cinemas because I thought, 'Maybe I've lost the plot now.' It did rattle me. I'm genuinely scratching my head about that. I'm genuinely scratching my head about that, because you can't ignore it. It wasn't like [just] a few bad reviews."

And while negative reviews are rarely an indication of box office performance, "Argylle" only made a paltry $96.2 million worldwide. On a $200 million budget. Double ow.

On the bright side, some of the 33 percent of critics who gave "Argylle" a good review took the film on its own silly terms, and quite enjoyed it (including /News's Ethan Anderton). Consider me in that camp. Vaughn may not always hit the mark (I'm still stunned by the off-the-rails creative failure of "Kingsman: The Golden Circle"), but I was entirely on his off-kilter wavelength here. And I'm eagerly anticipating his forthcoming, shot-in-secret spy flick "Project X" starring Chris Hemsworth and Sam Rockwell. Vaughn's earned the benefit of the doubt (though Apple may see things a little differently).