Film Review – Men in Black: International
Men in Black: International
Men in Black: International (2019) is the kind of big budget undertaking that’s completely manufactured for the purpose of garnering a financial gain. It plays things right down the middle, where it doesn’t take any risks, it unfolds in a completely safe and uninteresting way, and garners the bare minimum of entertainment. It stars good looking and charismatic performers that don’t do anything charismatic on screen. I would be willing to bet that most people that watch this won’t remember it weeks – correction – make that days later.
I’m having trouble with what I could possibly say about this forgetful sci-fi comedy. Even the worst of the worst have some type of element that we can focus on and remember. But writers Matt Holloway and Art Marcum – along with director F. Gary Gray – have such a toothless approach that I’m sitting here almost at a loss for words. It’s one thing to watch a bad movie, it’s another to watch a movie that barely inspires any conversation at all.
The setup is the same as we’ve seen in previous Men in Black entries: secret agents dressed in slick black suits help protect Earth from catastrophe involving all forms of alien life. They keep themselves hidden from the rest of society by using pencil-shaped “neurolizers” that erases a person’s memory with a flash of light. But what was a charming dynamic between an up and coming youngster (Will Smith) and a straight-faced veteran (Tommy Lee Jones) is replaced by a lifeless team up of Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth. This is mindboggling, given that the two have already shared good screen time together in the Thor/MCU films. It goes to show how a production can waste the talents of a cast by dropping them into a story with not much to do.
Agent H (Hemsworth) is experienced in the field, whose exploits has made him a legend but has also turned him cocky and self-absorbed. Agent M (Thompson) is a determined recruit who uses her own smarts to find the MIB’s headquarters and maneuver her way onto the payroll. At one point, she discovers the existence of alien life and the MIB, the next she is sent by Agent O (Emma Thompson) to London for a probationary test run. Almost as soon as she steps foot on British soil does she join forces with Agent H, diving head first into a mission involving a super weapon that could demolish the entire planet if fallen into the wrong hands (or tentacles, as it so happens in this universe). And so, the two go on an adventure where they travel to exotic locations, meet aliens both friend and foe, and learn more about each other (wink wink).
Yawn. There isn’t anything here that stands out exceptionally well. Hemsworth and Thompson are fine in their roles, but they are handcuffed to a story that does not serve them well. He is the hero turned buffoon; she is the straight as an arrow rookie that learns how to adapt on the fly. The not so subtle romantic angle between them comes and goes as though the writing doesn’t know whether they should or shouldn’t fall in love. The narrative is an episodic slog of forgettable set pieces. The flow is so disconnected that – despite the fact that we can see the plot twists coming from a mile away – we still have to suffer through double crosses and red herrings that we know mean little to the overall stakes. During one sequence, H and M fight two powerful alien twins (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) making us think they are the primary villains, but then the plot completely forgets about them until the very end. The film also wastes Rebecca Ferguson, who shows up as a three-armed villainess just to be tossed away as quickly as she’s introduced.
Part of the appeal of the first Men in Black (1997) was the sense of discovery, how an entire working institution existed just out of view of the masses. But now we are twenty-two years removed and the feeling has evaporated. What’s left is a film that in a weird way doesn’t even believe itself to be good. One of the biggest laughs is when Hemsworth grabs a small hammer and chucks it at an alien, obviously calling to mind his work as the superhero, Thor. It says a lot about a movie when the biggest joke reminds us of a completely different blockbuster franchise.
MIB: International is “check mark” kind of a flick, as in the production gathered together and went down a list of things they thought needed to be included to make a hit. A property with an already established name brand? Check. Recognizable stars? Check. Cute and cuddly creatures that add comic relief and can sell merchandise? Check. A story that is all too familiar so that audiences won’t feel lost or challenged to pay attention? Check. I didn’t hate watching this, I just didn’t have any emotional reaction at all. It’s the definition of “nothingness.”