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When the first Men In Black film came out in 1997, I was 11 years old. I hadn’t yet mastered the art of finding low-res trailers on the blossoming internet, but I had remembered being told about two guys with futuristic three-barreled shotguns in black suits fighting aliens. At that memory alone, I was fully bought in on whatever Men In Black was selling. Despite the terrible, lazy sequel and a surprisingly effective third entry, that world and the concept of the Men In Black still held a special place in my moviegoing heart after all these years.
Truthfully, I found myself surprised that I wasn’t very excited about the newest spinoff, Men In Black: International. Maybe it was losing Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Maybe it was the sour taste of that sequel. Whatever it was, I just couldn’t get hyped for the spinoff. Consider me surprised that when I walked out of the new film, I was happy to have been able to revisit that world with new characters, even if the film itself doesn’t really justify its own existence.
MIB: International introduces us to two new agents: the arrogant, sloppy Agent H who has fallen from grace, and the newly-minted probationary Agent M, who tracked and discovered the Men in Black herself after witnessing them erase the memories of her parents when she was a child. Together, the hop around the globe trying to piece together an intergalactic mystery involving dead royalty, a mysterious crystalline technology, potential agency moles, three-armed arms dealers, miniature noble warriors, and a monstrous alien entity known as The Hive.
If that sounds as if MIB: International has a lot going on, it’s because the movie has a lot going on. Somehow, though, it all comes together in a fairly cohesive globetrotting adventure. The locales are gorgeously filmed, sprawling from the streets of New York and London to the deserts of Morocco, lush lakes of Italy, and of course the Eiffel Tower.
Replacing Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones is no small feat, and while Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson can’t match the pair in energy, they do their own fine jobs as characters outside of the “arrogant young hotshot” and “cranky old-timer” models. Hemsworth gets another chance to play goofy and affable but with a hint of tragedy as H, an agent who simply isn’t who he once was. Thompson’s Agent M is interesting, in that she’s driven by truth, having tracked and discovered the MiB on her own for no gain other than joining them. Pitting these two with one another makes for at least a different experience, even if it isn’t as iconic or entertaining. As with Thor: Ragnarok, Thompson and Hemsworth have a charming chemistry with one another, and their playfully antagonistic behavior towards one another is enjoyable.
The supporting cast is full of strong actors playing stereotypical roles, from the returning, underused Emma Thompson as the stalwart Agent O, to Liam Neeson as the sage head of MiB London, High Agent T. Both bring their typical gravitas and presence, but both are used either sparingly or in an unsurprising way. Rafe Spall is good at playing a weasel, and his Agent C is the textbook picture of a by-the-book weasel. If there is one major flaw in the cast and characters, it’s that MiB: International thinks it’s being clever when we’ve seen versions of these people in many films before. They’re all fine, but they’re unoriginal in their existence.
The biggest new impacts are made from the new aliens we encounter along the adventure. Kumail Nanjiani serves up his voice as a pint-sized warrior named Pawny who accompanies Agent M as her sworn protector. Pawny is the source of most of the comedy in the film, and while I was worried I’d find Pawny grating, Nanjiani allows his trademark sarcasm to shine through effectively. Likewise, Rebecca Ferguson makes an impact in her smaller role as a figure in the criminal alien underworld, bringing her ferocious energy as one of the many obstacles in the path of our heroes.
As with much of MIB: International, the direction and styling by F. Gary Gray is serviceable. It’s fine. There’s nothing painfully offensive or egregious in the way the film looks and feels. It’s a welcome return to the world of the Men in Black, and the sets, aliens, weapons, and locations are all on par with the quality of what a studio tentpole film should have. Your mileage may very on where “unoffensive” falls on your scale of ‘Good to Bad’, but I was just excited to see cool space guns and gnarly aliens again. There’s a certain tactile nature that Gray brings to some of the action set pieces, and the real sets and international locations help sell the world of aliens on Earth.
As previously mentioned, there are a lot of moving pieces to the plot of MIB: International. The movie jumps from rookie story to mysterious royal assassination to hunting a MacGuffin fairly quickly. Looking back, it all connects and seems to make sense, even when putting it all on paper seems like much. The globetrotting is fun enough, and the various characters add fun visual gags, like the alien who’s beard is actually a smaller alien.
Try as I might, when I looked back at the original series of movies, it was hard to find a particularly deep theme or message they tried to deliver. The same is true here, as there isn’t really anything deeper than the surface story. Sure, there are allusions to fate and destiny, and there is talk of the universe placing you in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment, but it doesn’t amount to much.
If it seems as if I have a negative tilt towards MIB: International, that really isn’t the case. You could find much worse ways to spend a couple of hours this summer, as it provides an inoffensive, competently-made adventure with a charming cast of characters. The action is fine, nothing world changing nor incompetent, and the quips and humor is good, but not terribly memorable. Some people might find that to be the worse offense of all, but not me. Truly bad films are poorly made, edited, acted, with terrible effects and immense plot holes. Men In Black: International isn’t any of those things. It’s almost workman-like in its existence, a perfectly fine entry to a world that I enjoy, and to be honest, that’s enough for me.
The Final Pop
While Men In Black: International may not have the energy, style, or substance to be the relaunch of a franchise Universal hopes it’ll be, but it still has an admirable workman-like quality to it. Charming leads and fun aliens help a bit in distracting from everything else seeming much closer to the middle of the road.
Microwave Popcorn… and a Soda