REVIEW: ‘Men in Black: International’ is Less than the Sum of its Parts

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In 1997, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones introduced the world to Agent J and Agent K and the rest of the clandestine organization made to protect the world from the existence of aliens: the Men in Black. With three films, the Men in Black franchise took a dark comic book and adapted it into a buddy cop action-adventure film that bridged science fiction, humor, and action in a black suit. Men in Black: International, directed by F. Gary Gray and starring Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth as the new agents at the center of the film, Agent H and Agent M respectively, continues this science fiction comedy legacy.

The fourth installment in the Men in Black franchise, coming seven years after the last, introduces the audience to a new part of the universe, the London Branch. After Molly, a young girl saves an alien in her room and escapes the flash of the nuerolizer that wiped her parent’s memories of the incident, she lives her life seeking the truth. Although she aces interviews for both the CIA and FBI she’s deadset on working in the division that handles little green men which ultimately leaves her working in a call center instead.

That all changes when she hacks into the Hubble telescope and finally gets a lead on the Men in Black, infiltrates the base, the one that Smith’s Agent J is recruited to in New York City and joins the organization. While the beginning is a tad slow, the purposeful pacing is to build out Molly, to introduce us to her personality and to make us understand that unlike the reluctant Agent J, she wants to be there. In fact, she has always wanted to be Agent M.

In a purposeful attempt to subvert the similarities between the Agent M’s newbie status and J’s the story makes her more capable, more self-assured, and sadly loses some of the comedy along the way. That being said, once Agent M makes it to her probationary assignment in London and meets Agent H. Hemsworth and Thompson’s chemistry electrifies the screen as they embark on an adventure in which the older agent learns more about himself and changes by the end of the movie. It’s familiar and ultimately like many have said about every installment in the Men in Black franchise, it is the same franchise as the first film.

While the storyline is predictable, two agents, one new and one old, are off to save the world while the answer to their problem is right in front of them, there is a different dynamic to this story. Instead of looking up for the enemy, although there is a fairly overpowered alien adversary, the adventure is pushed forward by a threat within: a mole in the Men in Black organization.

As the mission starts off as one thing, finding the alien duo who killed an important person, it morphs into a fight that sees Agent H and M fighting against the Men in Black themselves as everything begins turning on its head, even with predictable reveals and plot choices along the way. In truth, the alien enemies in this film are the most well-designed element and the use of CGI in their appearance stand out starkly against a film with less than stellar visual effects that do more to remind the audience that the Agent pair are acting against a green-screen.

Played by dancing duo Les Twins, who I immediately recognized from their time on NBC’s World of Dance, a competitive dance reality show, the two are only credited as Twin 1 & Twin 2, but a species of alien when not in twin form are visually the cosmos. In addition, their ability to use their bodies is well suited for the action scenes which see them dodging all manner of weapons. However, their motive is left to exposition rather than development of the characters themselves.

In addition, the film ultimately suffers from its callbacks. In an iconic franchise, the use of direct quotes and shot for shot scenes casts a shadow of the former actors who were once our leads. It continually reminds the audience of their last times with the Men in Black, making Agent H and M’s way to our hearts an uphill battle. That being said, this is the fault of the constant reminders to the previous films and not our main characters.

To market Men in Black: International, Sony promised the expansion of the Men in Black world. But the worldbuilding in this film is an afterthought. There are loads of new aliens but they’re in the background or performing the exact roles that others did in previous films. In addition, there doesn’t seem to be a focus on nuerolizing the population of Marrakesh as our leads smash through it on future tech. There is an inconsistency about the way rules of the organization exist and are used throughout the film that feels less like expanding the mythos and more like trying to remind itself that it is a flick constrained by preexisting rules.

While Matt Holloway and Art Marcum‘s dialogue is far from perfect, Hemsworth and Thompson’s execution of it is. In truth each individual actor, from the main characters to the side characters like Agent C (Rafe Spall), O (Emma Thompson), and T (Liam Neeson), to Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani), and Riza (Rebecca Ferguson) does extremely well when acting with others as you can feel the chemistry between each member.  However, when they’re acting by themselves and not playing off of each other, the one-liners and emotive moments fall flat. Luckily, the bulk of the flick is centered on interactions which makes the aforementioned moments few and far in-between

Truthfully, Hemsworth and Thompson bring a different dynamic than they did in Thor: Ragnarok but it’s just as pleasing. The two clearly enjoy each other and their ability to flawlessly execute jab after jab of dialogue fully realizes the buddy cop dynamic baked into the film. Their friendship and insults are natural and loving and they succeed for the same reason that Smith and Jones did 12 years ago.

The addition of Pawny to their dynamic, the cute alien companion to make their trio, delivers some of the best humor in the film. Nanjiani never feels out of place and his natural comedic timing shines as he delivers his lines from the animate body of a tiny alien.

But with the specter of the original agents looming over them, and Gray deciding to insert so much of the original films into this fourth installment, the film is trapped in a space that leaves it as good enough. Instead of cementing itself as something fresh and new it lives in nostalgia which is a disservice to its stellar cast.

Overall, Men in Black: International would have served its lead better as a new IP and not a continuation of an existing one. While the movie is enjoyable, it is so because of the actors, their chemistry, and their ability to make you fall in love with them. Sadly, the film is less than the sum of its parts as the story is too familiar and predictable and the visual effects leave much to be desired and is immersion breaking at points, something that I believe could have been fixed by utilizing more practical effects instead of relying so heaving on the use of computer-generated aliens and flights.

While Men in Black: International is a fun flick, when judged against its genre and its franchise it’s lackluster. That being said, fans of any of the actors will be happy with their favorites on screen, but as someone who also loves Thompson and Hemsworth, this flick left me wanting more. Although I did enjoy it, the more time I sit with it, the more I wish it had stood out against the rest of the franchise.

Rating: 5/10