[Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for “Argylle.”]
During the final act of Matthew Vaughn’s spy comedy “Argylle,” most audience members will likely find themselves hyper-focused on just what star Bryce Dallas Howard (as Elly Conway, our protagonist and also creator of the fake espionage world at the heart of Vaughn’s film) has slapped on to her feet. That’s probably old hat for Howard, who previously weathered a controversy centered on the footwear her “Jurassic World” character, the prickly and prissy Claire Dearing, sported during some seriously scary dino-centric action (remember those heels?). This time around, however, Howard is outfitted in the kind of apparel that should only make audiences stand up and cheer, rather than sit down and moan in sympathy, “Ah, my aching feet!”
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In one of the film’s final action sequences, Howard’s Elly — previously a mild-mannered author who spends her time at home writing wildly popular spy novels — taps into the very kind of action she’s used to only writing (there’s a twist on that we won’t really spoil here), and slaps a pair of knives (yes) on to the bottom of her combat boots (yes) to skate around on a crude oil spill, killing lots of bad dudes along the way. It’s absolutely insane, but it makes sense for both the wacky story Vaughn is telling and the actual character growth on offer for Howard. It also puts a pretty good pin into the shoe controversy.
Let’s refresh: In Colin Trevorrow’s 2015 smash hit “Jurassic World,” Howard’s character wears heels the entire time, even when she’s running from angry, murderous dinosaurs. It sounded dumb then and it sounds dumb now. And it didn’t go away, not even in the film’s followup, which doubled down (for a bit) on this inane bit of costuming.
When “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” was released in the summer of 2018 (truly, a simpler time), this writer spent over 1,100 words (still all of them quite well-reasoned, I’d argue) expounding on the recurrence of Howard’s heels in the second film in the massive franchise. Over time, however, I’ve changed my mind a bit on one thing: I appreciate how much thought Howard put into her responses to the mini controversy. For her, the choice was one that said something about the character.
At the time, Howard told Yahoo! Movies that the heels simply served the character. “This person does not belong in the jungle. … From a logical standpoint, I don’t think she would take off her heels. I don’t think she would choose to be barefoot. I don’t think she would run faster barefoot in the jungle with vines and stones,” she said. “I don’t think she would carry flats around with her. I think she’s somebody who could sprint a marathon in heels.”
In “Argylle,” shoes are similarly telling us something about Howard’s character. Initially, the quiet and reserved Elly wears sensible flats (repeatedly squinting at the screen, I believe that for the majority of the film, Howard is wearing sneakers or some soft desert boots; in any case, they look comfy). But, as the film reveals its many twists and turns, Elly is later expected to embrace her forgotten true self (a bad-ass spy, naturally).
Dispatched for a mission in which spy-Elly (her name is Rachel Kylle, yes, “R. Kylle”) is expected, Howard inevitably has to do a little vamping. She has to play the part, she has to get into the role, she has to become a character. That means a costume change during a key sequence, one that is literally billed as “dressing like the fantasy” by her compatriots. That fantasy includes sky-high, sparkly heels.
Later, once Elly finally sheds the trappings of Rachel, she chucks the heels. It’s not the sort of pointed, gratuitous moment that opened “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (which literally reintroduced Howard’s Claire high heels first), but it does feel like the final word on this oddly enduring kerfuffle. Until, of course, the combat boots and knives combination arrives, effectively lacing this entire thing right up.
By that final act of the film, Elly has melded both of her personalities, and her costuming reflects that: She’s wearing Rachel’s sparkly gown, but she’s replaced the heels with a pair of combat boots (finally, Howard!! a pair of sensible shoes for the task at hand!) and, as best this writer can tell, a pair of bicycle shorts/shapewear under her dress that allow her to kick and punch and “whirly-bird” her way with through all sorts of bad guys with relative ease.
But, as fun as that all sounds, it does one better: it makes sense, both for the film and the character. If the shoe fits!
A Universal Pictures and AppleTV release, “Argylle” is in theaters today.
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