At The Movies - Men In Black International Is Lost In Space
By Jordan Bosch
Men in Black is yet another franchise that should have been allowed to die years ago.
Barry Sonenfeld’s original 1997 film was slick, fun, and creative, but his sequels couldn’t live up to it despite plenty of potential in the buddy-cop-comedy-with-aliens set-up.
And even with the opportunity afforded by the premise of this series’ world and fresh characters at the helm, Men in Black: International, a reboot/spin-off of the series directed by F. Gary Gray more than two decades since the first, already felt aimless and dated before it came out. Because instead of offering something new or exciting as the broader scope of its title would indicate, it’s content to be just another lacklustre action movie.
After having witnessed and retained her memory of their work as a child, Molly Wright (Tessa Thompson) tracks down and infiltrates the Men in Black. Convincing Agent O (Emma Thompson) to recruit her, she’s given the designation Agent M and sent to the London branch where she teams up with the formerly esteemed Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) to investigate a series of apparent alien attacks across the globe and the possibility of a mole within the organization.
Firstly, this story’s focus is misappropriated. The most compelling part of this premise is the girl who witnessed an alien encounter tracking down and joining the Men in Black, but it’s relegated to a very rushed portion of the films’ first act so as to quickly get M to London for the plot to start rolling.
And once it does, the focus shifts so as to occupy both her perspective and that of H, but the story becomes mostly his, with M having no real stake in the matter. It doesn’t help that both the mysteriously powerful enemy and the double agent conspiracy are incredibly dull contrivances that the movie makes no effort to mollify into something halfway original -there’s not the slightest attempt to hide who the turncoat is.
Scenes are motivated out of the potential for action set-pieces or a comedy routine more than any meaningful connection to the plot, and that plot itself is so lacklustre and ultimately unclear that I struggle to remember it (a sentiment shared by numerous viewers thinking they’re the first to make a neuralizer joke about this movie).
The world of this film is pretty lifeless and devoid of a fleshed-out character. Notably it’s missing all the weird and memorable personalities that filled out the supporting casts of the previous films. There’s no Vincent D’Onofrio, Tony Shalhoub, or Michael Stuhlbarg as neurotic aliens in disguise.
Instead, this movie gives us an alien creep voiced by Kayvan Novack, a jilted former lover played by Rebecca Ferguson, and a diminutive comic relief sidekick to the heroes voiced by Kumail Nanjiani, whose cutesy appearance and insufferable gimmickry are unmistakably reminiscent of the dog from Men in Black II.
Even the MIB agents are dreary and uninspired, with Emma Thompson giving a lackadaisical performance as O, Liam Neeson as the dry High T (get it??), and Rafe Spall once again as a flat and petulant windbag of an antagonist called C. The British MIB Headquarters itself is underwhelming in fact, lacking the vivid creativity of the New York branch, and while the technology and gadgets are still really fun (such as the limitless laser guns and tools hidden in H’s car), there’s nary a sense of the thrilling mystique that characterized the agency’s modus operandi in the original Men in Black.
The diversity of geography otherwise is only about as versatile as Aquaman, a film which presented that geography with much more visual and narrative richness. As it happens, the middle portion of this movie noticeably echoes Aquaman, down to its McGuffin being at the centre of a globetrotting chase where the protagonists are pursued by their own people.
The one alleviating element through all this is the proven chemistry between Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth. They have a natural rapport and a mutual energy that strengthens and sustains their scenes together when the writing is sub-par. Their dynamic doesn’t have the strength of the brilliant contrast of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, but they can make it work. Thompson is especially sharp and charismatic, making it that much more a shame her character is misused by the screenplay –and she looks just as smooth and stylish in her black suit as Will Smith. Hemsworth on the other hand has to contend with playing an irresponsible blowhard, and while he’s demonstrated he can be funny with traces of that sort of personality as Thor, it comes off tired and dull a lot of the time. His mysterious backstory is the more engaging angle and that is what needed to be more fully explored.
In the summer of sequels nobody wanted, Men in Black: International had at least a little more promise than Dark Phoenix or The Secret Life of Pets 2. It is an intellectual property virtually designed for continuing stories after all.
And while bringing back Sonenfeld probably wouldn’t have helped (he did direct Men in Black II after all), the movie needed a more visionary director, and more importantly a studio that isn’t frightfully out of touch to handle it. This movie exists to relaunch the franchise, and perhaps join that ever popular cinematic universe train. The original movie didn’t, and that’s why it’s going to survive where this one will dwindle to obscurity.
And here is your quirky flashback for Friday’s review and remember the cartoon spin-off of this franchise.