There’s nothing inherently wrong with Men in Black: International. It features two very likable stars in Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson; puts them into a franchise ideally suited for expansion and has a talented director in F. Gary Gray, who knows how to deliver thrilling action scenes.
The biggest problem is there just isn’t enough to justify its existence. It’s an OK experience, but never one that feels so creative, fun or clever that it needed the MIB backdrop when it probably would have worked better as an original property without the baggage and expectations.
Men in Black largely worked due to the unlikely, but very successful pairing of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. By the second film the novelty of the whole aliens are among us premise had worn off, but the Smith/Jones partnership was entertaining enough to keep the franchise somewhat viable.
Despite energetic performances from Thompson and Hemsworth, it never felt like there was enough life left in the series to launch an updated series. Besides better special effects, there’s really nothing in International that wasn’t done better before in the series.
Hemsworth plays Agent H, an MIB operative working in the London branch led by his former partner/mentor Agent T (Liam Neeson). H gets by on his brashness and devil-may-care attitude, which irritates some of his peers namely Agent C (Rafe Spall, The Ritual).
Across the pond, Molly (Thompson) is still trying to track down the MIB after a childhood encounter. The trailers spoil most of Molly’s arc as she stumbles onto the agents and gets a meeting with New York head Agent O (Emma Thompson). Agreeing to grant Molly now renamed Agent M probationary status, O assigns her to the London office to help out with some bothersome issues.
For whatever reason, M decides H would make an ideal mentor and wants to partner with him. H isn’t much for partners, but the script dictates they team up so it quickly becomes a non-issue.
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Hemsworth and Thompson clearly have a great chemistry, but they’re basically just playing the same character beats they did in Thor: Ragnarok in a new setting. After Ghostbusters and especially Ragnarok, a lot of filmmakers are encouraging Hemsworth to go more lunkhead comic relief.
The problem is Hemsworth is an underrated dramatic actor when his characters have sufficient depth and layers. Too often that gets sidelined for the easy laughs. The Russo Brothers handled that delicate balancing act perfectly in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame where Hemsworth could be the butt of jokes while also being a very tragic figure.
The script, by screenwriting team Matt Holloway and Art Marcum (Transformers: The Last Knight, Iron Man), teases a great reveal of how Hemsworth’s Agent H has become this slacker, but never delivers. That’s a key element of the MIB franchise as the personal stakes and drama are so much more meaningful than the random alien parade and hi-tech weaponry.
We also get the pandering woke-ness as Holloway and Marcum throw out some token lines of dialogue questioning the men designation of the organization. M also has an eye rolling line about how all women are queens that just comes off as disingenuous.
Soon M and H find themselves on the run from MIB after getting caught in a potentially disastrous galactic incident. With only the aid of a plucky soldier Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick), it’s up to the agents to catch the real culprits while avoiding energy vampire twins (Les Twins), a ruthless crimelord (Rebecca Ferguson) and a potential traitor in the agency.
Holloway and Marcum go with spectacle over character, which makes it hard to care about H and M besides the obvious. There’s not nearly enough backstory for M to explain what she was doing all that time while searching for MIB to immediately become so proficient on the field. She doesn’t seem to have any problem properly aiming the alien tech for example. The villain reveal is telegraphed too early yet their motivate isn’t fully explained.
While he doesn’t have much to work with on the character development front, Gray (The Fate of the Furious) has no problems delivering the action goods. There’s some fun action sequences that meet expectations of the series and bring some liveliness to the film. I’d love to see Gray reunite with Thompson and Hemsworth on a different action project as this trio could really make some cinematic magic together.
Men in Black: International is decent enough, but it’s not the kind of film that’s going to stand out in a crowded summer blockbuster field. Fans of the franchise willing to give it a chance likely won’t be disappointed, but it’s hard to see this chapter bringing in a new audience to spark another trilogy.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures