I know I’ll never get the two hours I just spent watching Men in Black: International back, ’tis part of the great contract us movie critics sign with the devil of Hollywood. But if only there was a way to zap myself with some kind of bright glwoy contraption, to erase that grueling 120-minutes sat in a popcorn-fueled daze, watching the swashbuckling Chris Hemsworth and charming Tessa Thompson flail in a dead fish revival that was never meant to be. If only some people in black suits could trot up and zap away those banal 7200 seconds, rewriting my history by telling me I just watched John Wick 3 again or just “something really cute” really. But alas, neutralizers don’t exist. And watch Men in Black: International I have.
By almost all accounts, this third sequel and quasi-reboot of the once popular franchise is a bad movie and one that does not need to exist in the least bit. Lacking the distinct odd couple charm of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, both of whom offered career-defining work in Barry Sonnefeld’s original film, the often remarkably disturbing Cronenbergian body horror elements, and the snarky comedic high points of 1997’s Men in Black and – to a lesser extent – Men in Black 3, Men in Black: International is a most vanilla product that tries to capitalize on the success of its predecessors by essentially forgetting what made them enjoyable in the first place.
Men in Black: International has more in common with the widely panned R.I.P.D., which in turn tried to emulate the cinematic successes of MiB, than it does with the film that helped launch Will Smith to superstardom. It’s a derivation of a derivation undone by unremarkable action, noxious CG sidekicks and wholly predictable plot that scrambles from one underwhelming and undercooked plot point to the next without paying mind to any semblance of character arc. Both of the main characters remain largely unchanged from the beginning of the film to the end, one an arrogant and brash shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later-type, the other a brown-nosing type-A know-it-all. By the end, the arrogant one’s arrogance is rewarded and the know-it-all never fails to actually know everything. Neither of them are challenged and pushed to transform, which sounds plenty of alarm bells regarding the incredibly undercooked script. And that’s before you factor in the oft-poisonous attempts at comedy.
It’s hard to overstate just how poorly written the film from Matt Holloway (Punisher: War Zone) and Art Marcum (Transformers: The Last Knight) is. Beginning with a Parisian-set cold open two years in the past, Hemsworth’s Agent H and Liam Neeson’s High T are in the City of Lights to stop a nasty bit of alien goo called The Hive. After neutralizing some honeymooners, the two arm themselves with, and I quote, “only their wits” and save the world. It’s important to remember this part because it’s repeated ad nauseam – a tantalizing bit of irony for a movie that appears itself to have no wits. But before we see H and High T defeat the dastardly Hive, we travel back in time again, leaping a further twenty-year down into a second flashback, this one establishing Thompson’s Molly and why she believes in aliens. This will lead her to one day track down MiB and beg to be a part of their organization, a process that lasts all of one scene before she’s suited up, trained, and ready to take on alien action.
The easy but proven chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson at least attempts to salvage the movie from being entirely unwatchable but under the gun of a completely unimaginative and decidedly unclever script, they’re given so little to work with that their performances are fueled by sheer charisma and swagger alone. Hemsworth in particular tries to inject as much charm as he can into his line reads but it’s like putting an interesting spin on the ABC’s. There’s just no room for greatness. It doesn’t help that they’re both forced to work against a pint-sized alien CGI abomination named Pawny (painfully voiced by the usually funny Kumail Nanjiani) who swears allegiance to Thompson’s M and has all the charm of Bill Murray’s live-action Garfield mixed with Jar Jar fucking Binks.
Agent H and Agent M try and fend off a royal assassination, come into possession of the most powerful weapon known to the universe, hunt for a MiB mole, go clubbing with a horny blob-like alien, fight off breakdancing Erik André-ified versions of the Matrix twins, push all the red buttons, fend off a living beard, and flirt with Rebecca Ferguson and her evil zebra wig. All the while, director Gary F. Gray, the man who brought N.W.A. to the big screen in Straight Outta Compton and had The Rock fight a submarine in The Fate of the Furious, cannot manage to get one interesting or memorable set piece out of the exchange. For a movie with such patently big ideas and such an unlimited intergalactic sandbox, MiB: International feels so kiddy, slapstick, and small-minded. The only red button worth pushing would be the one that ejects this damn movie out into space once and for all.
CONCLUSION: At least Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson try to entertain in the painful ‘Men in Black: International’, two hours of unfiltered nonsense that travels at the speed of sound in one ear and out the other. Poorly written, poorly staged, predictable, obnoxious, with comedy beats that almost never works, this is a new low for a franchise that should have never tried to re-enter orbit.
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