Review: Men in Black: International

DIR: F. Gary Gray • WRI: Matt Holloway, Art Marcum • DOP: Stuart Dryburgh • ED: Zene Baker, Christian Wagner, Matt Willard • PRO: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes • DES: Charles Woo • MUS: Chris Bacon, Danny Elfman • CAST: Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Rebecca Ferguson

How dare you have Frank on the poster and only have him in 1 scene?

Men in Black has always been an oddity to me. It’s a film series that you need to remind yourself that there’s already been a trilogy.  When you think of trilogies your brain would normally turn to Lord of The Rings, Batman or The Godfather. Granted these are sublime series. I just find it odd that you don’t see the Men in Black trilogy in many DVD shops. Maybe there’s a reason for this? What if this beloved series isn’t all that good? When you think of these films your brain will automatically respond with memories of Will Smith, Frank the talking dog and Tommy Lee Jones’ deadpan expressions.  Do you remember these films? The first instalment of Men in Black is terrific even today. The ’90s aura suits the campy style of the film. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’ chemistry make it a film that will forever be remembered. The sequels on the other hand are a different story all together. Men in Black 2 is a disaster. Filled with offensive jokes and a lifeless plot, it may be one of the worst sequels of all time. Men in Black 3 is a step up from 2 thanks to a great Josh Brolin performance. It still never comes close to hitting the heights of the first film. On the whole, it’s hard to find why there ever needed to be a sequel to Men in Black in the first place. Men in Black: International arrives with the task of trying to convince the world that this is the first sequel of the series that isn’t a cash grab.

Men in Black: International tells the story of Agent M (Tessa Thompson), a new addition to the Men in Black (MIB). Paired with the experienced but impulsive Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), the 2 of them must travel the world to defeat a global threat. If that wasn’t bad enough there’s a mole in the MIB. Can Agent M and Agent H overcome their differences? Or will the plot make things up as it goes along? The MIB movies have never been known for their magnificent plot structure. MIB: International takes the cake when it comes to messy storytelling. It’s a film that’s trying to juggle too many balls at the same time without ever attempting juggling before. The film wants to tell the story of rookie Agent M. The film also wants to give Agent H a redemption arc. These two desires clash and end up cancelling each other out. One moment Agent H is showing Agent M the ropes, the next moment Agent H becomes inept for no reason leading Agent M to become the more level-headed of the two. An odd couple pairing can only work if the film chooses distinct roles for each of the couple. By making them switch every 5 minutes it makes the film unbelievable.

MIB: International doesn’t know what it wants its main threat to be either. Is it the twin aliens (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) who are causing havoc in cities? Is it Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), Agent H’s ex-girlfriend turned intergalactic arms dealer? Or is it the mole inside the MIB? Every single one of these villains is underdeveloped. The twins don’t have any dialogue to give them personality or motive.  Riza is only in the film for 20 minutes. The mole is so painfully obvious that when the film decides to switch to it in the last 20 minutes you can’t help but wonder what the point of it all is. Thankfully, the film is saved thanks to its dedicated cast.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are no where to be see this time around. This leaves big shoes to fill. Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth through sheer hard work manage to get these shoes to fit. We all know how good these two were in Thor: Ragnarok. Their chemistry was no fluke. Once again Thompson and Hemsworth bounce off each other with ease. Thompson brings a sense of awe and wonder to her character. You can see how blown away she is by the world by looking at her eyes widen. Agent M is undermined at times by a script that falls flat in its attempts to dig into the sexism of the past films. Thompson’s likability makes it impossible for these moments to derail the film.

Agent H is the more obvious comedic foil of the two. Hemsworth has shown time and time again that he’s hysterical when given a platform to showcase his comedy skills.  Hemsworth can sell even the poorest joke. When Thompson and Hemsworth get the opportunity to bounce off each other for lengthy periods it makes you forget about the mess of a movie they are in. It’s weird because their characters’ arcs are written so poorly, but you don’t notice because of how good the performances are. Without these two leads the film would have been a disaster. What could have been one of the worst films of the season becomes a solid one thanks to Thompson and Hemsworth. If these two keep it up they can become one of film’s great pairings.

The rest of the cast are a mixed bad. Kumail Nanjaini threatens to steal the film with his character Pawny. Pawny is an alien who joins forces with Agent H and Agent M in the second half of the film. Nanjani uses his comedy experience to turn what could have been an irritating character into a memorable one. If you haven’t seen Nanjani in The Big Sick change that now. This guy is going places. Rebecca Ferguson’s character design is the only impressive thing about her character Riza. The arms dealer is given no time to leave a lasting impression after being hyped up for so much of the film. Laurent and Larry Bourgeois are commonly known as French dance group Les Twins. It’s hard to figure out why they were chosen to be the main alien villains. They don’t get to act or dance. They needed to do something. Hell, I would have taken a dance sequence set to the Will Smith theme. The other MIB agents don’t get much to do either. Emma Thompson shines in her 5 minutes of screen time in her return to the series. Underusing her should be considered a criminal offence. Yet the MIB films have done it twice now. Agent C (Rafe Spall) is irritating in every single scene he’s in. Unfortunately, not in the intended way.  The sooner Hollywood learns how to use Spall right the better. High T (Liam Neeson) is the head honcho of the London MIB branch. Neeson does a solid job at reminding audiences that he’s good at talking when he’s not giving interviews. For a 2-hour film it’s bizarre that every single character feels underutilized.

MIB: International is the first MIB film not to be directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. With that comes an opportunity for a new director to take a stab at adding a new dimension to the series. F. Gary Gray is the man at the helm this time around. Gray is certainly an established director with Straight Outta Compton being one of the best films of 2015. Since then Gray’s gone on to direct Fast & Furious 8. Rather then making more dramas the director has decided to go down the big-budget action root. Gray’s direction for the most part is solid. The action scenes aren’t ground-breaking but there is enough to keep you invested. A scene involving a hover bike is an enthralling set piece. The problem is that this film feels like more of the same. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen in a MIB movie before. The same guns. The same action sequences. The same amount of alien’s explosions. It doesn’t feel like anything new was brought to the table to enhance the world. Which is shame considering the possibilities of a world filled with aliens. Gray is a talented director, but it doesn’t feel like he was given an opportunity to express himself. The root of all the film’s problems comes from the script. Written by Matt Holloway and Ant Marcum the script is a dud. These guys wrote Iron Man and now they seem to have forgotten how to write. The plot is predictable and jumps from A to Z at any given moment. The jokes fell almost entirely flat. I was the only person in the cinema who had the slightest giggle from them. For a film set in an alien world there are few aliens to be found. It’s the third film of this summer that attempts and fails to display feminism. These blockbusters really need to look at Hereditary, Roma or The Favourite. Blockbuster movies seemed adamant to point out how they are all for having female characters and it needs to stop. It’s your own fault that you excluded them for year so please quit the pandering.

Men in Black International isn’t the abomination that many critics are making it out to be. Hemsworth and Thompson bring enough fun that you’ll have a good time. The problem with the film is that it’s very lazy. It’s another film in this series that feels like it’s only doing it for money. Not one of these sequels has felt honest. Each one feels like a movie has already been written and they decided to slap Men in Black on it to sell it.  The first film is filled with heart and to see it exploited is a travesty. In 7 years, we’ll see another MIB reboot. This one will star of the Stranger Things kids and Jaden Smith.  At the end of the day this isn’t a series of a films. This is a series of marketing exercises led by Sony. Marketing in Black will return to feed off nostalgia in 2025.

Liam De Brùn

@liamjoeireland 

114′ 49″
12A (see IFCO for details)
Men in Black: International is released 14th June 2019

Men in Black: International – Official Website


 

 

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