Men in Black: International is the rare reboot picture that makes me question whether any film in the franchise was any good to begin with. It looks and feels like the preceding trilogy. The setting is a comic book world populated by covert aliens, some of which are hunted by or hunting equally-covert agents of the law donning black shades and slick suits. The appearance of energy comes in the form of quippy Men in Black, distinct alien character designs, and shiny silver weaponry that shoot beams of colored lights.
Perhaps the original Men in Black has more of a narrative backbone than this. But I don’t remember there being much more to it than that. Why, then, do I have a slightly fond memory of that film, where this film leaves a bad taste in my mouth?
Is it because the lead characters in Men in Black: International are given plenty of backstory but no distinctive personalities? Agent M (Tessa Thompson) becomes Agent M after spending her entire young adult life pursuing the agency that attempted to hide aliens from her as a child. Her sole motivation is finding and joining the Men in Black. As for personality….she quips sometimes.
Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) is a renowned agent at the London branch of MIB. Alongside the leader of the branch, Agent High T (Liam Neeson), he saved the world from the evil alien The Horde. While still a fine agent, he is consistently being told by others that he has changed for the worse. And…he quips sometimes.
That’s about all there is to the two protagonists. Their motivations rarely shift. They don’t resonate with any sense of depth. They sparkle for the audience insofar as they are two beautiful people who use humor as a means of establishing a partner rapport. Beyond that, they serve as the conduit for the audience to experience a rather banal sci-fi plot.
Given this fantasy Earth is populated by diverse species of aliens, the film does not present a particularly exciting journey. There are aliens that literally rock the earth. There are guns that shoot holes in the earth. But there is not an earth-shattering plot available to make this two-hour trip to the theaters worthwhile.
What could be intriguing about the boilerplate science fiction plot is simply glossed over. Aliens wreak havoc on the world, and Agent M and Agent H have to stop them. When it is introduced that the villains of this film have more nuance to their destruction, it is a plot point ignored for the sake of a flat, disappointing climax. So all we get is Agent M and Agent H stopping a bigger villain, a finale that is, ultimately, uninteresting.
Thompson and Hemsworth both perform to their usual levels of charisma. They can make scenes fun and approachable, even when the narrative isn’t providing anything fun and exciting. And Kumail Nanjiani as a sidekick alien character meant as comic relief (in a film where the other characters are already making quips) provides good comic timing in spite of the lack of comedy in the dialogue itself.
For what it is, Men in Black: International is dressed up as a fun science fiction film. The set pieces and comic tone is there. But those set pieces lack a dynamic edge. The tone lacks a personality. And the film does not have an identity of it own. It is dressed up as a recognizable identity, and it leaves me wondering if that identity was worth rebooting in the first place.
Men in Black: International: C
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)