The Men In Black movies don’t make up a particularly good franchise. The first film from 1997 was a terrific original idea about the hide-in-plain-sight tactics of a secret organization that monitors extraterrestrial behavior on Earth. As long as the aliens weren’t destructive, they were allowed to stay; if they misbehaved, they got zapped into oblivion by the titular characters using advanced weaponry. But the films after that (one in 2002 and the last in 2012) got progressively worse, even with a great idea in part three of going back to time to meet Tommy Lee Jones’ character as a younger man (played perfectly by Josh Brolin).
Men In Black: International is part sequel/part reboot, bringing in an entirely new cast (with the exception of Emma Thompson as Agent O, returning from MiB 3, and a few familiar-looking aliens), and the result is exactly what it appears to be: an act of expensive desperation. Our entry point into the story is Tessa Thompson’s Molly (eventually Agent M), who, as a young girl, met an alien that MiB agents were chasing and somehow avoided getting her memory erased when her parents did, so she never forgot the strange men in black suits who visited her home that night. In fact, she spends her entire life seeking out the Men in Black, while also studying in fields that would make her the ideal candidate for recruiting. Eventually she stumbles upon an MiB site and sneaks into their New York underground offices, hoping to be brought in. After a fruitful discussion with Agent O, she is brought in on probationary status.
Another flashback to a more recent moment in history shows Agents High T (Liam Neeson) and H (Chris Hemsworth) in Paris seemingly defeating a planetary threat called the Hive. The moment was so singular, there’s even a commemorative painting of the battle in Agent High T’s present-day office. Back in the present day, there are signs that the Hive may be a threat again, inhabiting the bodies of twins Laurent and Larry Bourgeois.
Agent O selects H to investigate what she believes are problems in the London office (run by High T), and before long it is believed that there is a mole in the organization, with the chief suspect being the persnickety Agent C (Rafe Spall), which of course means it’s not him. Before H leaves for London, Agent M volunteers to accompany him, giving her a chance to use her powers of deductive reasoning and knowledge of alien cultures, and the two set out to save the world from the return of the Hive.
Director F. Gary Gray (The Fate of the Furious, Straight Outta Compton, The Italian Job) isn’t exactly known for his comedic chops, but he does alright here managing the humor while clearly enjoying the action sequences far more. The bigger problem lies with the retread of a screenplay. H and M go across the globe looking for signs of an alien enemy, including a pint-size Pawny (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), who ends up an ally in their search. There’s nothing especially new or interesting in International’s plot, and even the jokes and action sequences feel familiar, so much so that much of the film is tired and ordinary.
The film’s one saving grace—and it’s a significant one—is that Hemsworth and Thompson have tremendous natural chemistry. To say that I was excited to see the pair re-team so soon after Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame is an understatement, but to see an entire movie built around how well these two work together and complement each other’s skill sets is almost too much of a good idea. In so many ways, their partnership surpasses anything else about the movie—it’s too good for this flaccid storyline—but it still managed to bring me great joy watching them banter and poke fun at each other, while still combining their strengths to defeat the scum of the universe. Sadly, their chemistry isn’t enough to save the film—I doubt anything could have outside of a page-one rewrite—but it was at least enough to keep me from scratching my eyes out, so that’s something.
In the end, Men In Black: International reduces itself to repeating the tropes of the series—the suits, the sunglasses, the pen that neutralizes your recent memories, the shiny silvery space guns and cars that can fly. At it certain point, the movie felt like it was outright refusing to add anything remotely new or creative to the mix. To give you a sense of how easy it is to tune out of this film, the usually reliable Rebecca Ferguson is in this film as H’s former lover (and alien villain), and I barely remember anything she did in it. It’s as if my memory was erased after seeing this fourth installment, or perhaps that’s just wishful thinking.
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