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.
F. Gary Gray deserved the benefit of the doubt revitalizing the Men in Black series (now exploring the London branch, hence the International subtitle, alongside giving us a host of new characters that turn out to all be forgettable). Not only was Straight Outta Compton outstanding and arguably an overlooked awards contender, but he’s one of very few filmmakers that has successfully made the transition from drama/small-budget action to massive blockbuster (the eighth installment of the Fast and Furious franchise) and has consistently made enjoyable films over the years (Friday is a comedy classic, meanwhile something like Law Abiding Citizen remains an audience favorite). Am I thrilled by the prospect of seeing new MIB agents foiling alien plans in new locations? Not really, but anything and everything has the potential to be worthwhile, especially an underrated and capable director on board.
Sadly, Men in Back: International is lazily directed and written (the script comes from regular collaborators Matt Holloway and Art Marcum who are responsible for some good in Iron Man and then some bad things like the incomprehensible mess that was Transformers: The Last Knight), utilizing some of the oldest narrative tricks in the book (central to this iteration of the series is a mole within MIB and the only way you won’t be able to label the traitor is if you have years of moviegoing knowledge and experiences wiped away from your memory) and battle resolutions that make the similar Martha segment in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice logical and sane in comparison. There is also cringe-worthy and regressive attempts at humor such as a villainous alien that has captured H (Chris Hemsworth, basically playing Thor, character quips and all, as a MIB agent) deciding to turn against her mafioso companions and let him go in exchange for a one night stand. No, that’s not the ridiculous ending to a fight sequence I just mentioned, so rest assured, the writing gets much worse.
However, it does feel like the storytelling is trying to do something refreshing with the typical archetype Chris Hemsworth character, as M (Tessa Thompson, playing a potential new recruit that ends up partnered with H for an important mission) instantly becomes fixated on him romantically, only to realize he is actually an arrogant and sloppy clown that has lost his passion for keeping Earth, and even his friends, safe. Furthermore, that does feel plausible for someone responsible for saving the world (he did it alongside Liam Neeson’s High T, the overseer of the British MIB branch, who has remained a no-nonsense individual dedicated to the cause, or in other words what you would expect from a Liam Neeson character). There’s even a line in the movie regarding physical attraction being a chemical reaction that should not be trusted, which would be a great message to hang this movie on, but instead, it’s too concerned with generic plot devices and no actual character growth. Then again, maybe that line only exists to save face for the hideous CGI around every corner.
On a related note, thankfully the writing does not make a love subplot out of any of this despite the initial physical attraction from M, which is already out of character when you consider the course of her life that has led her to join this infrastructure. Without saying too much, she has searched to join the MIB for her entire adult life, and although how she actually finds the organization and becomes trained by Emma Thompson’s O feels relatively rushed and unearned, it’s still properly conveyed that she’s highly passionate and committed to battling extraterrestrial forces. So much so, that it’s a little embarrassing seeing her swoon over Chris Hemsworth once she finally achieves her dream job after a lifelong search. There are themes in mind, but they fall apart in seconds of thinking about the writing.
The real disappointment is without question the direction from F. Gary Gray, who is unable to build a single exciting setpiece. He is vastly let down by the special effects department, but there also simply isn’t much going on besides some punching and kicking, a lengthy segment where the duo goes through possibly every alien gun in existence desperately trying to kill a pair of otherworldly twins (they have the ability to transform into supernatural looking particles when not resembling humans), and an unsatisfactory final fight that is over just as quickly as it begins. For a movie where a weapon is stumbled upon that can blast a crevice inside of a desert the size of ten football fields, it’s frustrating that nothing else comes from such a destructive device. It’s also odd that during a lackluster hoverboard motorcycle chase sequence, the pair of agents are only concerned with memory neutralizing one group of civilians, going on to ignore everyone else for the duration of the scene.
All that leaves to talk about is Kumail Nanjiani’s voiceover performance as Pawny, a chess-sized and themed comedic relief critter who loses his queen, opting to pledge allegiance to M after being talked out of suicide for failing to protect her. And maybe it’s because there is an unforgivable lack of detail in the CGI, but for whatever reason the antics and humor of this new alien sidekick were lifeless until the credits were about to roll, but it also feels like at some point someone realized there was not much chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, deciding to tell Kumail to let loose with more pizzazz and snark. In the end, his presence is the closest the movie comes to working.
A few funny lines are not worth seeing a movie for; come to think of it, I can’t think of a single reason anyone should go see Men in Black: International or one individual aspect to positively highlight. It just slogs predictably along with no energy and absurd plot developments. You know you got problems when not even Chris Hemsworth’s Thor-reminiscent one-liners and humor can save the day.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com