By Bill Mazzola
June 15, 2019
It’s clear to anyone even remotely paying attention these days that Hollywood has franchise fever. Remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels, and interconnected universes are all the rage. Nowadays we’re given reboots and continuations that we never really asked for. Which brings us to Men in Black: International. This is a franchise whose biggest laughs have come from agents erasing people’s memories– or to use the film parlance– neuralyzing them. The cruel irony here is audiences would probably be better off forgetting this film.
For those keeping score, it’s the fourth film in the Men in Black franchise, but this time it’s been given a facelift. Gone are Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, replaced here by notable Asgardians from another universe, Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. The pairing delivered genuine comic chemistry in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, and briefly in this summer’s Avengers: Endgame, and bringing them on screen together here was a smart move. Unfortunately, despite its inherently watchable co-leads, Men in Black is relatively bland, lacking in any real wow factor.
Director F. Gary Gray, stepping in for original trilogy helmer Barry Sonnenfeld certainly follows the sequel rule of going bigger; Men in Black: International globe trots maniacally from New York to London to Paris to Marrakesh with reckless abandon. The script, however, stitched together by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, is a convoluted mess that is both flimsy and cliched. Every turn the story takes can be seen and anticipated from miles away.
Don’t worry, dear viewers, there is some value to be had. Hemsworth and Thompson are genuinely fun to watch and are the only reason the film is half as entertaining as it is. Their performances are light, breezy, and winning, even if the movie itself isn’t. Hemsworth is in full comedic Thor mode, playing Agent H as a James Bond-ian rogue, who breaks all the company rules but gets the job done. He has the support of MiB bossman High T, played with a permanently furrowed brow by Liam Neeson.
On the other side of the coin is Tessa Thompson’s Molly. Molly, later christened Agent M, has pursued joining the Men in Black ever since she had a close encounter with a baby alien as a young girl. I wonder if that baby alien will show up later in the film at a super convenient time? (Hint: it does.) Anyway, Molly convinces Agent O (Emma Thompson) to bring her on as an agent-in-training. Her first assignment pairs her with Hemsworth’s Agent H, and off we go.
It’s not hard to picture where this is going. M is suitably horrified at H’s cad-like behavior and flouting of the rules, but is she really? The spark between the agents is there, and it’s indeed fun to watch the two actors play off each other even when the script isn’t up to snuff. H&M (no relation to the store) have the typical obstacles to overcome: There’s a mole in MiB. (gasp!) The suspects include the bookish Agent C (Rafe Spall) and even High T (Liam Neeson) himself. There’s also a pair of shape-shifting, body-contorting alien siblings our erstwhile pair must contend with, played by the French hip-hop stars Larry and Laurent Bourgeois, better known as Les Twins. And, naturally, there’s an ultimate, world killing apocalypse weapon that must be found and kept safe, because of course there is. H’s former lady love Riza, played cheekily by Rebecca Ferguson, currently has the weapon, because of course she does. A bright spot in the proceedings is Pawny— a pint-sized alien along for the ride, voiced by the Kumail Nanjiani. Pawny keeps the one-liners coming at a torrid pace and delivers the film’s biggest laughs.
Overall, everything feels very familiar and not overly inventive. Almost everything about this movie has a “been there, done that” feel. Maybe it’s because we have come a long way in terms of special effects and makeup since the original Men in Black graced screens years ago, but, despite the best efforts from the makeup and special effects department, nothing in the film feels overly dazzling. It’s a shame, because Hemsworth and Thompson, are a winning pair – but all they can do is lift this film into mediocrity.
Star Rating: 2 out of 5