Men in Black (1997) is one of those late 90’s action flicks that managed to capture lightning in a bottle. The chemistry of its leads (Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones) was undeniable, the visual aesthetic and tone were unique, and the story had some clever little twists to keep audiences on their feet – and, damn, that theme song. The subsequent sequels have not fared as well, both suffering from reliance on special effects and less clever storytelling to get them by while Smith and Jones (or Brolin) try to make up for the shortcomings. At the very least, they had Smith & Jones (again, or Brolin) to raise the material.
Men in Black: International, on paper, should work. It has Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth leading the cast, both of whom have shared the screen previously and demonstrated their chemistry with outstanding and hilarious results in Thor: Ragnarok. Director, F. Gary Gray has a proven track record of being a competent director with solid outings like Straight Outta Compton, Friday, The Negotiator, The Italian Job, & Fate of the Furious. Writers, Matt Holloway & Art Marcum are admittedly hit or miss, but, hey, they helped write Iron Man. Even with all of these checks in the “
For those who managed to avoid the marketing onslaught for Men in Black: International, the film follows Molly, a girl who came in contact with the Men in Black at an early age, as she tracks down MIB headquarters and somehow just wills her way not only into becoming an agent, but teaming up with one of London Headquarter’s best agents (Hemsworth) right out of the gate. The two then literally dance their way into trouble and stumble upon a new voiceless alien enemy that can shapeshift into anyone, including Men in Black agents – GASP! Obviously, said “enemy” is trying to get ahold of a world-ending weapon, and only our new heroes can stop them!
The main issue (of many) with Men in Black: International is how it manages to take two charismatic leads in Hemsworth & Thompson and completely waste them. Hemsworth, who has comedic chops and charisma to spare, is made into an unlikable, two-dimensional douche, while Thompson is forced to reckon with bad jokes and literally zero character arc. And therein lies the rub, the movie is all plot, no character.
Watching the film, I found myself in awe of how boring and by-the-numbers the writing and direction were, creating the perfect storm of blah. Sure, the FX look nice, but at no point in the movie do you feel a sense of the stakes or like the world or our heroes are actually in peril. The jokes almost all fall flat, even in the hands of Thompson and Hemsworth – the loudest I laughed at any point was a mild chuckle. You’ll also see any and all twists coming from a mile away. Heck, if you’ve seen enough crappy blockbusters, you could see the main twist coming from the trailers.
The only saving grace of the movie was Kumail Nanjiani’s Pawny character, who, against all odds, actually does elicit a few of the aforementioned chuckles. This was no doubt thanks to his reported ability to actually be on-set improvising and improving on what had to be dreadful two-dimensional writing, judging by the rest of the script. I will also say that I didn’t hate Rebecca Ferguson’s Riza, who is an alien arms dealer/former flame of Hemsworth. Sadly, the character is only given about 5-10 minutes of screentime, so don’t expect much.
Overall, even Men in Black diehards (do they exist?) will be disappointed by the lack of imagination in MIB: International. It’s clear that they have the right pieces, and yet, nothing works. I like Thompson, Hemsworth, and
OVERALL SCORE: 2/5 Stars