Men In Black: International – ah, the sequel/spinoff/reboot we never knew we needed, or expected, until the trailer dropped.
There was a time when its studio teased a 21 Jump Street-MIB crossover.
Now that might have been something to raise an eyebrow or three at, a back-to-school tale with the level of bizarreness cranked up to 11 with the blending of aliens and high school/college hijinks.
Alas, that movie never came to pass, and instead we have Men In Black: International, an expansion of the franchise with a mostly new cast and a different setting.
Revolving around Agents H & M (played by Thor: Ragnarok buddies Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson respectively), the movie’s base of operations shifts from New York to the MIB organisation’s London office and hops about Europe and North Africa.
It mixes Indiana Jones-style street chases and 007 villains’ island lairs with the expected extra-terrestrial strangeness, and adds a 21st-century storytelling staple: the mole.
(I blame you, Jack Bauer and your leaky Counter-Terrorism Unit!)
As usual, the central threat of the film is a nasty one, just that it is terribly undeveloped – yes, not even underdeveloped; it is simply given a name and a reputation and … zip-all else.
It’s a good thing that the secondary villainy is pretty slick: twin terrors (aptly played by French dancer/choreographer duo Les Twins) with powers unlike anything even the seasoned Agent H has seen, and a ruthless but heartsick underworld bigwig (Mission: Impossible’s Rebecca Ferguson), who happens to be H’s ex.
Yes, it all seems to revolve around H, charmingly played by Hemsworth as a vaguely himbo, less hairy but no less self-assured (pre-Thanos) version of Thor.
If Hemsworth’s performance is fine but familiar, then at least Thompson’s M is decidedly un-Valkyrie-like but no less confident in her abilities. And besides, her character gets a cute backstory that somehow ties in – you may view it as serendipitous or hugely contrived – to a critical moment in their mission.
Bottom line is, Hemsworth and Thompson make a good screen team.
Likewise, the obligatory alien pest/sidekick, a tiny tinkerer named Pawny (voiced by actor-comic Kumail Nanjiani), does contribute to the proceedings instead of just being comic relief. Though I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve seen him somewhere in a Star Wars movie.
Men In Black: International has the right casting and chemistry but the unambitious (and again, undeveloped) sinister alien plot is decidedly not worthy of the talent assembled here.
Director F. Gary Gray (The Fate Of The Furious) has a good eye for framing big sequences in such a way that the action doesn’t get lost, and the timing to make the quirkier elements work without them seeming forced.
Not all his skills, though, can make the skimpy story seem any more intricate, or the straightforward wrap-up seem any grander.
Still, with this new cast and the endless possibilities afforded by the setting, the franchise is in the right shape in case a more worthy, more (inter)stellar story should come along someday.
Men In Black: International
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson, Rafe Spall, Les Twins