Men in Black: International (2019) Review
A FAR FROM STELLAR
SPIN-OFF / REBOOT ENDEAVOR
Back in 1997, Men in Black debuted in theaters; inviting moviegoers to partake in an amusing and silly entertainment that blended sci-fi aspects with late 90s action / comedy nuances. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Men in Black, which starred musician / actor Will Smith and actor Tommy Lee Jones follows the exploits of two agents of a secret organization called the “Men in Black”, who supervise extraterrestrial aliens who on Earth and hide their existence from ordinary humans. While not exactly a “game changer”, Men in Black was well-received by both critics and moviegoers; praising the film’s humor, alien creature designs, action scenes, sci-fi nuances, and great performances and chemistry between Smith and Jones. In addition, the film grossed over roughly $589 million at the box office against its $90 production budget, with Men in Black becoming the third highest grossing movie that year. The success of Men in Black spawned a franchise, which includes two feature film sequels with 2002’s Men in Black 2 and 2012’s Men in Black 3 (Sonnenfeld returned to the director’s chair for both movies as well as Smith and Jones) and a animated cartoon series titled Men in Black: The Series, which ran for four seasons (53 episodes) that ran from 1997 to 2001. Now, roughly a decade after the release of Men in Black 3, Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures and director F. Gary Gary present the spin-off film to the franchise with the release of Men in Black: International. Is this fourth installment in the MIB series worth a watch or is it time to “neuralyze” this franchise altogether?
Ever since she was a child, Molly Wright (Tessa Thompson) has been aware of the secretive organization of the Men in Black, determined to one day join the ranks of the elite alien agency. Finally finding her way in, Molly is assessed by Agent O (Emma Thompson), who senses something special about the brilliant woman, offering her probationary period in MIB in placed on her first assignment in London. Arriving overseas, Molly (now under the alias name of Agent M) meets Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), with the charismatic rogue agent that plays by his own rules, still enjoying fame associated with his takedowns of The Hive, a deadly alien force, several years ago. While High T (Liam Neeson) offers assignments and Agent C (Rage Spall) butts head with H, M quickly soon becomes entangled with the H on a mission to show an alien dignitary a night on the town. However, when things go sideways, the two MIB agents quickly find themselves in plot that threatens to unravel secrecies and a looming threat.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Finding my love for movies during the latter half of the 90s, I look back at 1997’s Men in Black with fond memories. Of course, I remember that I didn’t see it in theaters (my brother did, while I went to see Disney’s Hercules). However, I did catch MIB a few months later when it was released on home video and I did like it. Naturally, I remember hearing Will Smith’s “Men in Black” song on the radio as well as seeing many times on MTV (back when MTV was cool) and it was definitely catch and got me interested in the movie. Like I mentioned above, 1997’s Men in Black was a really good movie (especially during its theatrical release), which offered up some silly sci-fi action nuances and a likeable magnetic on-screen chemistry / dynamic between Smith and Jones as Agent J and K respectfully. It’s two sequels were kind of a mixed bag of sorts as I personally found Men in Black 2 to be fun, but a sub-par entry to the original and Men in Black 3 was an improvement on the previous sequel (loved actor Josh Brolin as the younger Agent K) yet felt bit outdated since the third MIB installment arrives decade after the release of MIB 2. As for the animated cartoon show, I remember seeing a few episodes of it when it first aired (back on Kid’s WB Saturday morning run), but never really got interested or fully invested in its episodic adventure. Still, for what it’s all worth, the Men in Black franchise is pretty good and never fully takes its self seriously; resulting in cinematic escapism of alien designs, witty remarks, cool sci-fi gadgets, and just simply movie entertainment.
Of course, this brings up talking about Men in Black: International, a 2019 feature that acts as the fourth film in the series and a quasi-reboot for the franchise. Like everyone, I thought that the Men in Black franchise was over with back in 2012, following the release of MIB III. However, I was quite surprised to hear that a fourth entry in the film series was gonna be made and being treated as a “spin-off” endeavor, with Smith and Jones not returning as the film’s lead characters. Given that dismay of not seeing Agents J and K on the screen again was a bit of disappoint, but I kind of figured that would be the case. Plus, it got me a bit excited to hear that Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson were gonna be playing the lead character roles in the new Men in Black movie. Of course, the film’s movie trailers came out and got me more interested in seeing Men in Black: International. That being said, I still felt like this movie could go either way….be it a successful summer blockbuster or a disappointing flop. Still, I went to go see it during its opening weekend, hoping that my vague doubts of the movie would diminish after seeing it. So….did they? Well, not exactly. Despite a strong chemistry between Hemsworth and Thompson, Men in Black: International is mostly a forgetful reboot that doesn’t really reinvent the idea of the MIB franchise and never really comes together as worth successor to its predecessor installments. There’s still some fun in the movie, but it’s not enough.
Men in Black: International is directed by F. Gary Gary, whose previous directorial works include such films like The Italian Job, Straight Outta Compton, and The Fate of the Furious. Given his wide selection of past experiences (in a variety of feature film genres), Gary approaches this fourth installment in the MIB series to be more of a “quasi-reboot” by re-introducing us (the viewers) to the alien sci-fi world of individuals in black suited attire, cool gadgets / devices, nifty cars (with big red buttons to boot), and a host of alien creatures throughout. It’s definitely been awhile for the MIB franchise to come back into the cinematic light and Gary uses that knowledge in the feature, providing plenty of screen-time in all its various cinematic facets. What Gary also does is keep the similar tone of the feature refreshing by keeping the film’s story, though having some gravitas, not to seriously; allowing various jokes and gags to play off with similar MIB comedic fashion. Additionally, much like the Fast and the Furious franchise, Gary makes MIB: International very much a “globetrotting” movie endeavor with the film’s story visiting various locations across the world that takes the film’s character well beyond the already established MIB world of New York City (and the nearby areas).
MIB: International’s presentation is actually pretty good, showcasing the feature’s visual appeal to be right up there with the rest of the franchise’s cinematic nuances. Of course, the visual effects sequences are slick in the movie by providing various creatures designs of the variety of extraterrestrial aliens. Of course, this particular movie can’t beat out the some of the more practical effects from the original MIB movie (done by Rick Baker), but what’s presented is still great and definitely adds to the feature’s visual flair and overall appeal (be it characters, explosions, or nifty gadgets). In addition, the whole “International” portion of the movie feels very much a background character (with good intentions) as I mentioned before its various locales and places make the film’s story a “world tour”. Setting wise…. each location and set piece looks great and definitely has a visual aesthetics to it all. Thus, the talents of production designs (Charles Woods), set decorations (John Bush), costume designs (Penny Rose), cinematography (Stuart Dryburgh) and the various team members of the art direction team definitely make MIB: International looks impressive. In addition, the film’s score, which was done by Danny Elfman and Chris Bacon, is pretty good and felt feels appropriately done (musically) throughout the feature. It’s not super great, but it’s not horrible. It somewhere in-between.
Unfortunately, MIB: International doesn’t quite live up its own hype or to even its predecessors and ultimately feels like another shallow remake / reboot from Hollywood rather than a pleasant extension to the franchise. What went wrong? Well, the big criticism that I have about the movie (and I think that many will have) is the simple fact that this film doesn’t really live up its own hype as both a continuation of the MIB series or as a reboot of the franchise altogether. What’s even more frustrating is that the movie definitely arrives “too little, too late”, with a seven-year gap between MIB 3 and this film. The intent is there to find “new ground” within the MIB movie series, but MIB: International comes up short. Sure, it expands the cinematic world slightly in new various locations, but it doesn’t feel like it. In truth, the biggest mistake that MIB: International fails in is that the movie almost feels identical to the original 1997 feature. Of course, there are some minor tweaks here and there, but the main bulk of the feature’s script, which was penned by Matt Holloway and Art Marcum, feels too similar to what happened in the first MIB film (i.e. a new young recruit is partnered with seasoned veteran agent, the antagonist character (or rather characters) take human form bodies, a royal alien monarch plays a part in the main narrative, and there’s an object that sort of acts as a “McGuffin” for a large section of the feature. You can definitely feel the parallelisms there and it just makes this particular movie feels like redundant retread. It’s a shame because MIB: International could’ve really done something quite different from the original three MIB features, especially since this film’s story isn’t focused on Agent J and K.
Additionally, the movie’s script doesn’t really do much in the way innovation to revigorate viewers. It certainly plays “the MIB hits” that features nods and callbacks nuances throughout, but neither the script nor Gary’s direction “colors outside the lines” of storyline progression in shaping / helming MIB: International. Thus, the movie feels very generic and predictable right from the off and plays it safe throughout; trodding down a formulaic narrative path that does really go anywhere. Even the story’s plot twists and shocked moments don’t really amount to “shock and awe”, with the script sign posting several of these points early on. Plus, the script is very weak in various areas, especially in character developments…. most notable in Agent H and M, which are the feature’s two main leads. The backstory of M, who is supposed to be the main protagonist of the two, feels totally undercooked with very bland, rushed, and never given any credence beyond that initial setup. Thus, her character’s journey feels vague. Likewise, Agent H’s past seems a bit hazy. The movie builds him to be a legend in the MIB London Branch, but the story is super vague in what makes up an actually “legend” and why he’s so now debonair and careless is never fully explained.
This also extends to the film’s villainous shaping shifting twins, who are played real-life twins Larry and Laurent Bourgeois (sometimes referred to as “Les Twins”). Visually speaking, this pair look good and the performances by the Bourgeois are fine, but the actual characters that they play are rather flat and don’t leave much to be desired from their placement in MIB: International other than a fun visual “gimmick”. Thus, their villainous aspect of the feature feels rather flat, which (again) goes back to the plot being rather flat with little to no meaty on the bone for story / character substance. Again, I do understand that the film (as well as the past MIB endeavors) don’t take itself too seriously, but the previous films have better villains / antagonists than a pair of thinly written shape-shifting twin characters. In addition, the film’s climatic third act, in which the true villain is revealed, feels lackluster and a bit confusing. This harkens back to the whole aspect how did H and High T’s legendary battle against “The Hive”, which isn’t really fully explained beyond a few snippets here and there.
Additionally, the film’s humor, which is usually the franchise “bread and butter” feels dry and flat. The script is punctuated with plenty of jokes and gags throughout, but it’s all rendered in a moot point in its execution. Thus, the humor in the film is “hit or miss”, but (to be honest) is more of miss than a hit. Coinciding with that, the various action sequences in MIB: International are just merely okay. Like a lot of problems in the movie, the setup / intent is there to be super cool and have plenty of blockbuster visual flair, but the end result just comes off as meekly okay with no one scene standing out as a point of remembrance. There’s cool sci-fi MIB gadgets, chases, and alien creatures in all of theses scenes, but all are just forgetful.
The cast in MIB: International has plenty of recognizable faces; finding the selected actors and actresses that play the various characters in the movie to be likeable throughout. However, most of them are weighed down by the feature’s lackluster and generic script; making their respective characters rather limited. At the head of the pack are the movie’s two leads of Agent M (i.e. Molly Wright) and Agent H, who are played by actress Tessa Thompson and actor Chris Hemsworth. Thompson, known for her roles in Creed II, Thor: Ragnarok, and Annihilation, certainly has a likeable screen presence and certainly shows that in her playing M / Molly Wright in the feature; acting as the “newly minted” MIB agent that acts as a sort of “wide eyed” youthful recruit in this secretive organization. However, much like what I said above, the character of M just seems very familiar to Will Smith’s Agent J character from the previous movie, but to a lesser degree. The same can be said about Agent H, who is basically the stereotypical aloof / seasoned / charismatic agent that takes the new recruit under his wing. While that’s good and all, but the movie never really gives much credence / redemption arc for the character’s journey. Of course, Hemsworth, known for his roles in Avengers: Endgame, Rush, and Bad Times at the El Royale, certainly as that likeable quality and has a somewhat comedic / carefree vibe in his portrayal of H, but that doesn’t make the character quite compelling enough to be well-rounded.
Of course, what makes up for the generic character builds of Agents M and H is the on-screen chemistry between Thompson and Hemsworth, which was showcased previously in Thor: Ragnarok. Their easy witty back and forth banter excels in the film and certainly has a genuine feeling in the rapport with each other. This aspect is probably the absolute thing that MIB: International has going for it and Thompson and Hemsworth clearly shine in the regard. It’s just sad that majority of everything falls flat.
In largely supporting players, the one that automatically stands out is in the character of Pawney, a small alien the befriends H and M on their journey. Voiced by actor Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick and The LEGO Ninjago Movie), the character of Pawney certainly does act as the sort of “comic relief” in the movie. However, the character himself is rather pointless and only is there for making humorous remarks here and there. Of course, Nanjiani’s voice is great in the minuscule extraterrestrial alien, but his involvement in MIB: International main plot line feels inconsequential. Basically, Pawney could be removed from the movie (in its entirety) and the film can relatively remain the same. Thus, it’s a sort of “give and take” when it comes to Pawney (i.e. you like him, but doesn’t offer up anything to the narrative). Also, actress Rebecca Ferguson (The Greatest Showman and Mission Impossible: Fallout) plays a character named RIza Starvos, an intergalactic alien arms dealer and H’s ex-girlfriend. Ferguson is a talented actress (definitely strikingly beautiful), but her character of Riza (and her minor storyline plot scene) is rather bland and tasteless…. just a throwaway / forgettable character. The other two big name stars are actors Liam Neeson (Cold Pursuit and Schindler’s List) and Rafe Spall (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and The Big Short) as High T (the boss of MIB London) and Agent C, one of the MIB London Agents. Both Neeson and Spall are talented actors, but their talents can’t help elevate their rather thinly written characters in this movie. Again, this is mostly due to the film’s flat and generic script, which can’t make High T and C well-rounded beyond their initial setup molds as a leader of the MIB London Branch and a weasel-like MIB agent. Plus, most of the jokes made up for C fall flat. Additionally, actress Emma Thompson (Late Night and Saving Mr. Banks) reprises her role previous MIB 3 role of Agent O in MIB International. Though her scree-time is limited, Thompson’s Agent O provides the best performance in the movie (at least that’s in my opinion).
Rounding out the cast are various minor supporting characters, including actress Annie Burkin (Blackout and Blood Carpet) as Nerlene, actor Spencer Wilding (Victor Frankenstein and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Lucas Brasi, and actor Kayvan Novak (Four Lions and Syriana) as three characters (i.e. Vungus, Nasr, and Bassam). Additionally, puppeteer / voice actor Tim Blaney returns to the MIB franchise (briefly) in voicing Frank the Pug in the movie.
The universe is expanding as MIB agents H and M uncover the truth behind a devious plot in the film Men in Black: International. Director F. Gary Gary latest film sees the return to the Men in Black franchise in a quasi-spin-off / reboot of the property for a new generation. However, while the wholesome entertainment intent is there as well as the on-screen performances by Hemsworth and Thompson, the rest of the film just feels mediocre with a shallow plot, a predictable narrative path, hit or miss humor, and feeling derivate. Personally, I thought this was merely okay, but still disappointing. It definitely was great to get back into the MIB world and to see the great on-screen chemistry Hemsworth and Thompson once again, but it just felt like an adequate endeavor and (very much) a sort of retread of what’s come before in the franchise; never really adding anything new to the franchise. In short, the movie never really lives up to its own hype. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is just a plain old-fashioned “skip it”. Even if you’re a fan of the franchise, it’s best just to watch the original three MIB films or even Thor: Ragnarok (for the Hemsworth / Thompson chemistry aspect). Whether or not that this movie will receive a sequel (i.e. a Men in Black: International 2) remains unclear. However, given its poor reception, that idea seem more and more unlikely. In the end, while its an admirable attempt at revitalizing the franchise, Men in Black: International feels disappointingly forgetful, boringly predictable, and lackluster generic to its predecessors; proving once again that Hollywood’s fascination in remakes / reboots isn’t exactly a recipe for a box office win.
2.3 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: June 14th, 2019
Reviewed On: June 18th, 2019
Men in Black: International is 114 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, some language, and suggestive material