Review: “Men in Black: International”

2 out of 5 stars.

Men in Black: International” is the latest in a long list of sequels to franchises that no one asked for, but that we got anyway.  As unnecessary as the film is, it did have a few things going for it—and it managed to squander them all, resulting in an action comedy that is corny, predictable, and forgettable.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, “MIB: International” is set some time after the events of the first three movies, but—in a very wise move—focuses on characters other than Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’s Agents J and K.  This film instead follows Molly (Tessa Thompson), who becomes obsessed with space and aliens after witnessing two agents of the mysterious organization Men in Black neuralyse (mind wipe) her parents because they saw an alien.  Twenty years later, Molly finally tracks down the MIB’s headquarters, and makes an impression on the head of the branch, Agent O (Emma Thompson, reprising her role from “Men in Black 3”).  Molly becomes Agent M, and is sent to the London branch of the MIB, which is headed by High T (Liam Neeson), She is sent on a mission with H (Chris Hemsworth), a cocky agent who hasn’t been the same since he and High T prevented an invasion by the Hive (an alien race that can merge with the DNA of other species) a couple years ago.

Agents M (Tessa Thompson) and H (Chris Hemsworth) participate in a high speed chase

The whole premise of the “Men in Black” movies is that aliens live on Earth among humans, and the MIB are a sort of secret police force that monitors their activity, all while keeping humans in the dark.  But while the people of Earth as a whole believe that aliens don’t exist, those who are members of the MIB do.  And even though these movies are first and foremost comedies, with the current political climate it feels like a missed opportunity that “MIB: International” didn’t at least try to go a little bit deeper into the relationships between humans and aliens, and the status that aliens enjoy on Earth.  Instead, the alien characters flash by us in a series of cartoonish (the visual effects aren’t particularly good, but they do seem to purposely be going for a less realistic aesthetic) cameos that are maybe fine in comedic situations, but are difficult to take seriously when the story actually does get serious.  There are a couple appearances by popular aliens from the previous movies, but the bulk of the comic relief comes from a new alien character called Pawny (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), a tiny, fast-talking creature who comes along on the mission when he swears loyalty to M, and is consistently more annoying than funny.

In fact, for a film that is predominantly comedic, “MIB: International” isn’t all that funny in general.  There is some good banter between M and H; Thompson and Hemsworth already proved that they have good chemistry in “Thor: Ragnorak,” and bringing them into this franchise to liven it up was a great casting choice.  The material they have to work with just doesn’t allow them to be any more than amusing, although Thompson’s enthusiasm is infectious.  The problem with H is that he is almost too cocky to be likeable, and certain plot points make it hard to entirely trust or like his character until almost the end of the movie.  Hemsworth also has some humorous exchanges with Rafe Spall, who plays Agent C, a fellow agent of the London branch who is constantly at odds with H.  Rebecca Ferguson also makes a brief but uninspired appearance as Riza Stavros, a former girlfriend of H’s who is also one of the most successful alien arms dealers in the galaxy.

There are a few bright spots in “MIB: International.”  Besides the overall solid cast, it’s nice to see the series going global and taking its characters to different locations around the world, and it’s fun to see all their crazy gadgets and thingamabobs.  But you can see the ending coming from a mile away, and it’s hard to enjoy a film that is so bland in almost every aspect.  The audience may not have been actually neauralysed at the end of the movie, but it’s so forgettable you probably won’t remember much of it anyway.

Runtime: 114 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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