Men in Black: International has some modern tweaks to the franchise's premise, but thankfully puts more focus on the comedic chemistry of its leads.
The original Men in Black was a product of its time when it released in 1997: a cool sci-fi movie idea that relied more on Will Smith's comedy schtick to Tommy Lee Jones' straight man action hero than actual world-building - but to great success. After two sequels, Men in Black II in 2002 and Men in Black 3 in 2012, with diminishing returns (critically and stateside, at least), the franchise is getting the quasi-reboot revival treatment with Men in Black: International. The fourth installment in the franchise brings in a new creative team and a new starring duo for an attempt at a fresh take on the original Men in Black idea. Men in Black: International has some modern tweaks to the franchise's premise, but thankfully puts more focus on the comedic chemistry of its leads.
Men in Black: International introduces Molly (Tessa Thompson), who learns of the organization's existence as a child and becomes dedicated to locating them. When she does, she asks to become one of them, and is recruited by the head of New York's branch, Agent O (Emma Thompson). Once becoming a probationary agent, Agent M is sent to the London branch. There, she teams up with Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) to investigate a series of alien attacks and eventually befriends the alien Pawny (voice of Kumail Nanjiani). Although the head of London's branch, High T (Liam Neeson), is supportive of M and H's investigation, they receive pushback from Agent C (Rafe Spall), and begin to suspect something isn't quite right in the Men in Black.
For Men in Black: International, F. Gary Gray (The Fate of the Furious) takes over from franchise director Barry Sonnenfeld, with the duo of Art Marcum and Matt Holloway (Iron Man, Punisher: War Zone) taking on script duties. Being the fourth installment in the series, albeit one that arrives more than two decades after the first film and five years after the last entry, International is able to cache in on the franchise's legacy. That means the movie doesn't waste viewers' time reintroducing the entire world of Men in Black, but it does attempt to build upon what came before. Men in Black: International introduces some interesting ideas about the organization's role in brokering peace between Earth and numerous alien races. However, those ideas get lost first in a rehash of the standard Men in Black premise of protecting a key alien artifact from a foe that's hunting the agents down. Then, any compelling exploration of the themes of Men in Black's role in the larger universe is muddled by a third act twist. Altogether, there are enough new ideas in International to set it apart from previous films in the Men in Black franchise, but just like the original, the leading duo are most important to the film's success.
After working on two Marvel Cinematic Universe films together, Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame, Hemsworth and Thompson have proved to have a great deal of comedic chemistry, with a healthy dose of heart. In Men in Black: International, they're playing different characters, but the easy rapport is still there. Their buddy cop dynamic is fairly standard action movie fare: Hemsworth's H is the reckless and arrogant elder agent, while Thompson's M is an uptight, rule-following newbie. Because it's a more by-the-book setup, it's slightly less interesting than the dynamic the actors had as Thor and Valkyrie - and with the pair reunited so soon, it's difficult not to compare H and M to the stars' MCU counterparts. While Thompson and Hemsworth do what they can with their International characters and dynamic, and there are moments of good comedy and earnest emotion, it too often takes a back seat to action scenes or to propelling the plot forward. As for the rest of the cast, they get little to work with, though Nanjiani's Pawny is a fun addition to the film.
Though Gray brings a new and exciting perspective to the sci-fi franchise and Hemsworth and Thompson have an established comedic compatibility, Men in Black: International never lives up to its potential. Much of the plot is a basic retread of past movies, with an easily guessable twist that puts a new spin on the formula. Hemsworth and Thompson shine when they're allowed to, but fall by the wayside when Marcum and Holloway's script is more focused on the plot and setting up the twist. The action set pieces are largely forgettable, with the exception of the design and powers of the alien adversaries (played by Laurent and Larry Bourgeois aka. Les Twins). But, again, these two never quite reach their potential. Ultimately, Men in Black: International is a fine movie. It has its moments where everything aligns and the movie provides some genuinely fun entertainment. But at other points, it feels as though even International is slogging through being a Men in Black franchise installment.
As such, Men in Black: International is a decent summer popcorn movie with enough enjoyable action and banter between H and M for a fine moviegoing experience. Fans of Hemsworth and Thompson will likely find more entertainment in the movie than Men in Black fans, though given the franchise's track record, it's unclear if any franchise fans still exist. Still, there are enough new ideas here that the movie isn't a complete retread of the previous entries. It may be worth a watch for those interested in the latest Men in Black movie or in Hemsworth and Thompson's continuing partnership. The CGI of the aliens in the film is impressive, but it doesn't require an IMAX viewing. While viewers may find some things to like in Men in Black: International, it's by no means a must-see summer movie.
Men in Black: International is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 114 minutes long and rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!
- Men in Black International (2019) release date: Jun 14, 2019