Hollywood is currently in the midst of a personality crisis. The major studios have become obsessed with the F-word – franchise
– and it’s led many executives to believe that intellectual property (IP) is more important than quality. It’s led to a rocky summer at the box office as reboots, remakes, sequels, and sequels to reboots of remakes have underperformed at the box office. One of the major reboots from this summer that failed to find an audience was Men in Black: International, director F. Gary Gray’s reboot of the sci-fi comedy series originally helmed by Barry Sonnenfeld with Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson stepping into the starring roles originally occupied by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The resulting film is a crushing disappointment, one that squanders the incredible chemistry between Hemsworth and Thompson in a film so astonishingly generic and forgettable that every aspect seems to have been crafted by a corporate committee.
Men in Black: International opens in Paris at the Eiffel Tower, which we later learn is home to a portal to another world which was discovered by Gustave Eiffel. Agent High T (Liam Neeson) and Agent H (Hemsworth) are there to prevent an alien horde known as the Hive from devouring Earth. In a few moments the film establishes Agent High T’s mentorship of Agent H. As the battle begins the film cuts away from the action though we learn later that High T and H were triumphant using only their “wits and series 7 atomizers.” This seemingly innocuous cold opening will factor in heavily during the film’s mundane climax.
20 years earlier, Molly (played in youth by Mandeiya Flory) has an encounter with an alien and witnesses her parents having their memories of the incident erased by the Men in Black with their neuralyzers. It sparks a life-long obsession and in her adulthood Molly (Thompson) continues to search for the elusive and mysterious Men in Black. Eventually she tracks down their location and is hired on as an agent in training dubbed M by her superior Agent O (Emma Thompson). It doesn’t take long for the ambitious Agent M to get herself working alongside Agent H on a mission where they’re to accompany an alien dignitary for a night at the club. However, mysterious forces attack the alien and it’s soon revealed that there’s a mole buried within MiB, giving away vital and classified information that threatens the entire universe. As distrust grows, Agent C (Rafe Spall) is convinced that the brash and arrogant Agent H is the traitor in the ranks, and soon Agents H and M are on the lam from their own secretive organization.
The dynamic between Agents H and M isn’t that nuanced. She’s a young overachiever ready to prove herself and he is a brash veteran, a man who saved the world once and has since become a practically incompetent boob; his ego overshadows his immense skillset. It’s a character dynamic that is well-worn and could work with just a little more thought. Each of the two stars really does their best to work with what they’re given but there’s just not enough depth in the script credited to Matt Holloway and Art Marcum to pull a great performance out of these actors. It’s heartbreaking to watch these two charismatic performers trapped in such a flailing, lifeless movie.
Over the course of their adventures Agents H and M encounter a number of colorful creatures, though each of these creations lack the personality required to make them, you know, the least bit memorable. Kumail Nanjiani lends his voice to Pawny, a tiny alien who operates as an attempt at comic relief but really winds up being nothing more than a mildly irritating, unfunny character who riffs on the movie like he was out of a watered down version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. In a bit role, Rebecca Ferguson is squandered as Riza, an alien crime boss and the ex-girlfriend of Hemsworth’s H. Then there are the two alien twins played by Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, two characters so vital to the plot that they don’t have names beyond “Alien Twins.” It all amounts to a bunch of filler because the film has trouble committing to a villain, opting for an easily solvable mystery about who is the mole in lurking within MiB. (The answer will not surprise you.)
The generic sensibility that runs through every frame of Men in Black: International might be its most impressive feature. It takes some serious effort to have a budget so large, an cast stacked with talent, and two stars with undeniable chemistry and squander it all on something with absolutely no visual style, no wit, and no reason to exist except to mine a well-known IP for a spot on the studio’s summer slate. Even the international aspect of the title feels like a misnomer, as so often the international locals are provided with shoddy looking backdrops to remind us that these characters aren’t trotting the globe defending the world from nefarious aliens but standing on a soundstage in front a green screen. Mission: Impossible and James Bond, two franchises that definitely use plenty of green screen technology, at least know the value of a practically shot exterior as a selling point for their international exploits, but the corner-cutting of Men in Black: International makes even simple shots look cheap.
F. Gary Gray got this gig hot of the back-to-back successes of Straight Outta Compton and The Fate of the Furious and delivers what is probably the most uninspired work of his career. Maybe the script was rewritten by committee during production and Gray found himself helming a production he didn’t believe in. Even if that’s the case, it still doesn’t explain why the action sequences are just devoid of all energy. There’s nothing kinetic in their design or execution. Like most everything in this unnecessary reboot, there’s just no reason to care what’s happening on the screen and as you get towards the CG-slathered finale, it really becomes kind of depressing to behold.
Because the studios prioritize familiarity more than anything, Men in Black: International was fast-tracked as a rebooted summer blockbuster. Under modern conditions, though, the original Men in Black, though based upon a comic book published by a subsidiary of Marvel Comics, would’ve never had been made. 22 years ago, Sony took a chance on something different with Men in Black, teaming two A-list stars in a sci-fi comedy blockbuster that paid off, netting two fairly successful sequels. That wasn’t enough. They wanted more. They pushed it so far that they created a dull, dreadful reboot that has probably tarnished the brand of Men in Black for the next ten years. There are all sorts of bad things happening in Men in Black: International, but none are as unforgivable as wasting both Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thomspon. You won’t need your memory wiped after this one. The movie will do it for you.
Men in Black: International
An oppressively generic, uninspired reboot, Men in Black: International squanders its stellar leading duo of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in a lifeless attempt to revitalize the Men in Black franchise.