Directed by F. Gary Gray
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson
For a reboot that appends the word “international” to its title, Men in Black: International feels curiously hermetic, a studio lot-bound affair. Two crucial set pieces happen in oddly empty streets in London and Paris (in front of the Eiffel Tower!). Actors interact with CGI critters that don’t convincingly mesh with their surroundings. And the story itself hopscotches from the aforementioned two European cities to Marrakesh to the Sahara to Naples without making those locales distinct characters in the narrative, to the effect that the stars may as well have been acting against rear projections of those places. The universe may be expanding, but the film itself feels plastic and claustrophobic.
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Does blame go to director F. Gary Gray, who may be more used to the ridiculous slam-bang automotive antics of The Fate of the Furious and The Italian Job, rather than the ridiculous proposition of turning celebrities like Ariana Grande and Elon Musk into incognito aliens? Or can it be laid squarely on the uneven script by Iron Man scribes Matt Holloway and Art Marcum, which tries to inject gender equality, the immigrant issue, and a vague James Bond-ian flavor to the franchise, but really doesn’t know what to do with all those ingredients? What we do know for sure is that there is now a female agent in the mix (well…two when you count Emma Thompson’s Agent O, who made her debut in the third installment of Men in Black’s previous iteration). Her name is Molly (Tessa Thompson), and she’d been obsessed as a Stephen Hawking-reading child with the mysterious agency since her parents encountered an alien critter in their backyard and got their memories erased by two agents.
Fast forward two decades later, and Molly’s obsessive tracking of celestial comings-and-goings lands her a walk-in application at the MIB headquarters in New York, then probationary status at the London office, where she lands smack-dab in the middle of an investigation involving murdered extraterrestrial royalty (with the straining-to-be-funny name of Vungus the Ugly), the most powerful weapon in existence, and a possible mole in the MIB bureaucracy.
Molly—now rechristened Agent M—is assigned to the cocky veteran Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), who famously defeated an alien threat alongside his mentor (Liam Neeson) “with nothing but their wits and series-70 atomizers.” In the interests of gender parity, much is made of Hemsworth’s obvious physical gifts, while Agent M is portrayed as the brains of the outfit. But while the chemistry between the duo survives intact during importation from Thor: Ragnarok, the twinkly comedic talent that Hemsworth displayed in that film seems dimmed here, primarily because the script stalls him in so-arrogant-he’s-clueless mode.
Much of the movie is suffused with this sense of muffled hilarity. The novelty of exploring an underworld of oddities has long gone, with only Kumail Nanjiani, voicing a minuscule alien sidekick named Pawny, providing much of the zingers. Men in Black: International isn’t the unapologetically weird romp its predecessor was, more like a slightly quirky successor. Call it Meh in Black.
Photographs from CTMG, Inc.