Not even the cosmic star power of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson can salvage this tired, paint-by-numbers reboot.
In this cinematic era of reboots and franchise resurrections, the slightly edited words of one Dr. Ian Malcolm come to mind: movie producers are too preoccupied with whether they could jump-start a franchise, they don’t stop to think if they should. Sure, nostalgia and comfort movies can be amazing cash cows, but only if done right. Only if you can bring new ideas to an old favorite and reinvent the vehicle for the present. These are things that Men In Black: International couldn’t be slightly bothered to attempt.
In a script plucked directly from 1996, Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok) plays Molly/Agent M. At a young age she happens upon an alien creature. While her parents’ minds are wiped by the MIB, hers isn’t, and she begins a lifelong pursuit to join this mysterious group. However, after failing to be recruited to the Men in Black via the FBI & CIA, she settles into a dull life of working at a call center and spends her free time casually hacking NASA. Molly eventually infiltrates MIB and convinces them to recruit her.
She’s shipped across the ocean, where she meets her soon-to-be partner Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), the head of British MIB, High Tea (Liam Neeson), and Desperate Attempt at a Happy Meal Toy Pawny the Alien (Kumail Nanjiani). Before long, evil is afoot. There’s some kind of Dead Space-adjacent space monster hellbent on destroying Earth. There even might be a mole in MIB! And if you’ve seen more than ten movies in your life, you know exactly every plot point and twist this movie has to offer.
The script by Matt Hollaway and Art Marcum (Iron Man) is about as stock-standard boring and predictable as it could possibly be. While the original Men in Black was a fun popcorn flick that played with expectations, this story lacks any real moment of genuine surprise or creativity. The MIB mole is obvious once the idea is introduced. The big bad has no motivation beyond “evil want all worlds now.” And despite having a universe of science at their fingertips, it seems that the only advancement in MIB tech in the past 22 years is a new car. It doesn’t do anything unique compared to the old ones, but this one is a Lexus. We know this because the car commercial in the movie makes it very clear.
The plot itself is knee-capped by one of the more frustrating trends in action-adventure movies: much of the story is moved forward not from hard work of the characters, but by sheer cosmic coincidence. The script tries to justify this by running with a theme of the universe putting people in “the right place at the right time,” but this plotting has happened so often in so many recent movies that it feels more like a thin coat of paint over a mess of lazy ideas.
While past Men in Black movies felt big and expansive, much of this film feels limited and claustrophobic.
While we’re at it, this movie continues the streak of not allowing male and female coworkers to cohabitate in a realm of mutual respect without having to throw in buckets of un-needed sexual tension. Who cares if Agent M and Agent H have no real reason to want to hook up? I mean, have you seen Chris Hemsworth? Didn’t all our jokes about how he is King Hottie of Hunk Island get the point across? Who could possibly work with that guy in a normal capacity? The answer is not a single woman in the entire Men in Black universe.
F. Gary Gray’s (Friday, Straight Outta Compton) paint-by-numbers direction is about all the script deserves. At its worst, there are obvious continuity issues in the action (in some moments whole crowds suddenly disappear) and one very glaring moment of Thompson’s ADR not even coming close to matching the movement of her mouth. While past Men in Black movies felt big and expansive, much of this film feels limited and claustrophobic — like the budget was constantly looking over Gray’s shoulder to make sure he didn’t do anything too big or costly.
Thankfully, not a single bad thing can be said about the acting. For as little as Thompson is given, she does everything in her power to make it work. She is subtle, poised, and deserves so much better than the forgettable dialogue handed to her. Hemsworth, meanwhile, admirably navigates through lines that sounded a whole lot like they really wanted Chris Pratt to be saying them.
Then there’s Kumail Nanjiani, who by sheer force of comedic will, actually made some of the film’s humor work. That may come across as back-handed but needs to be read as him pulling off the impossible. When Pawny was funny, it clearly wasn’t because of the script, but because Nanjiani had improvised something far better in the recording booth. He took a character who’s base motivation is to be featured on bed sets for kids and become the Minions of the MIB world, and, for a few brief moments, found a way to give Pawny a third dimension. This film doesn’t deserve him, or any of the other actors involved for that matter.
Simply put, Men in Black: International is an absolute waste. If this is the best that the team creating it can do, then there was never a need for it to begin with. Instead of taking a much-loved film and making it relevant to a modern audience, they just tried to hit all the beats that felt outdated in the mid-2000s and called it a day. If only the movie ticket came with a free neuralyzer.
Men In Black: International hits theaters Friday, June 14th.