Men in Black: International, 2019.
Directed by F. Gary Gray.
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson, Emma Thompson, Rafe Spall, Kumail Nanjiani, Stephen Wight, Beau Fowler, Laurent Bourgeois, and Larry Bourgeois.
The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organization.
While there were few clamouring for a “reboot-sequel” of the Men in Black franchise, this globe-trotting new take at least touted an undeniably canny central hook; casting ludicrously well-matched MCU stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson as its new leads.
But casting is largely where Men in Black: International’s smart choices end, for this flavourless, almost entirely laughless action-comedy couldn’t expect less of its audience’s sense of taste. Given that Sony toyed with an MiB–Jump Street crossover several years ago, by contrast this couldn’t seem any less adventurous or unimaginative a way to keep the series trundling along. Going by those early box office figures, though, people aren’t biting.
The fourth Men in Black film squanders the talents of a massive collective of talented artists and crafts-people, largely thanks to a lousily piecemeal, improv-reliant script from Art Marcum and Matt Holloway (Iron Man, Transformers: The Last Knight) and uncharacteristically spotty direction courtesy of the usually reliable F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, The Fate of the Furious).
Following the events of the (surprisingly good) third MiB, the shadowy galactic police force has expanded worldwide, with curious new recruit Molly aka Agent M (Tessa Thompson) assigned to the UK branch, where she’s partnered with the skilled yet roughhouse Agent H (Chris Hemsworth). Together, they must scour the globe taking down alien threats, all while teasing out a mole embedded within the organisation.
Right from the outset, MiB: Internaional is a hurried frenzy of a film, yet never one keen to rouse actual interest. Thanks to a script best described as “efficient”, we race through an origin story for Molly, ensuring she joins MiB within a square 15-ish minutes, in an intro that lacks the deceptive nuance or effervescent charm of Will Smith joining the outfit in the 1997 original.
A big part of the film’s overall problem is its utterly dire, flatly presumptive attempt at universe-building. Even the lesser of the prior sequels still added to this bubble in a meaningful way – yes, even MiB II – while beyond expanding the scope past the borders of the U.S., International is keen to simply regurgitate ideas and imagery we know and love. Yes, Frank the Pug (Tim Blaney) appears briefly, but it’s only for a perfunctory 10-second cameo.
This movie is a vehicle built almost entirely to serve the chemistry of its two leads, and at least on paper you can understand the logic in casting the affable stars of Thor: Ragnarok opposite one another. However, it’s also clear the film went into production with scarcely a shambling skeleton of what passes for a script, alongside the hope that Hemsworth and Thompson would elevate it simply by turning up.
But much like 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot, that’s an unfair ask of any actor and one that begets predictably disastrous results. Hemsworth, for all of his likeability, seems oddly lost here, channelling a suited-and-booted Thor yet oddly ditching the traditional MiB garb for large chunks of the film. He rips through the witless one-liners with a dispiriting lack of enthusiasm that perhaps suggests he’s as aware as any of us that it just isn’t working.
Thompson fares rather better as the audience surrogate, bringing a laid-back likeability to the table even when the material flatlines. But for all her efforts, her rapport with Hemsworth never fully clicks, which might be the most surprising failure of all here.
Elsewhere the supporting cast is left to flail around helplessly; Liam Neeson is a fine fit for High T, the head of MiB London, yet doesn’t ever get a chance to flex his comedic chops or really be anything more than a gruff, statuesque paternal figure. Emma Thompson, the only major cast member returning from the prior film, is similarly stranded with little to do, showing up for maybe two or three scenes, and despite looking absolutely fabulous here, ends up on the mounting pile of wasted talent.
Then there’s Rebecca Ferguson, who appears for a cup of coffee in the third act as a four-armed alien antagonist, while the talented Rafe Spall is yet again relegated to a forgettable stuffed shirt role. Even the lesser-known performers feel wasted; Laurent and Larry Bourgeois have a recurring role as two shape-shifting alien twins, and though they certainly boast solid screen presence, they’re given almost nothing to do but break dance and look mean.
The only real triumph, then, is Kumail Nanjiani, who brings scant life to proceedings with his animated voice-work for alien sidekick Pawny. Thanks to an appealing creature design, solid visual effects and a few one-liners that just barely hit the mark, he’s the easy highlight. That a miniature digital character manages to upstage a cast including an Oscar winner and an Oscar nominee, however, is a bit depressing.
But Pawny’s success is a major outlier, and even as a base pyrotechnics display nothing really works here; the several action sequences on offer feel pumped out mechanically with little of the personality that characterised Gray’s work on the last Fast and the Furious film. It just looks like the digital carnage you’d expect to see in any globe-trotting tentpole, complete with aggressively mediocre visual effects and generic shot selections across the board.
The aim with this film was clearly to revitalise an apparently ailing franchise for a new generation while taking advantage of the obvious Avengers intertextuality. Yet in that stead and also every other, it’s an almost impressive failure, unable to deliver even the basic, breezy thrills fans of this franchise – and general blockbuster filmmaking – expect.
In a summer jam-packed with low-effort disappointments, the lazy, cynical Men in Black: International represents everything gross about franchise reboot-sequels.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.