MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL Lacks the Good Ideas (and the Fun) of the Series (Review)

Making a sequel for a sequel’s sake—to thoroughly milk a piece of intellectual property until it’s dry—is nothing new in Hollywood. Sometimes it can even be worthwhile if there’s a real idea or two to explore. Men in Black: International takes all of the remaining good ones in a franchise that was already starting to look a little barren and smashes them with a hammer. Disrupting the proven rapport between two naturally charismatic actors in an adventure indifferent to the series’ premise, director F. Gary Gray (The Fate of the Furious) assembles a noisy, rushed, overlong, deeply unsatisfying spinoff that lacks good characters, a coherent story, or even just the fun energy of its forebears.

After an encounter with an alien as a child that was summarily erased from her parents’ memories by the Men in Black, Molly ( Tessa Thompson) grows up obsessed with joining the organization in order to, as she puts it, discover the truth of the universe. Eventually uncovering their New York branch, she convinces Agent O (Emma Thompson) to take her on as a probationary member, shipping off to London for agent training. When she overhears that legendary Agent H ( Chris Hemsworth) has been assigned to babysit a visiting envoy from an allied planet, Molly—now just M—volunteers to back him up. But M’s adventures lead her to a mysterious device that comes with an ominous warning: someone within MIB is not what they seem, and the ramifications to this infiltration could be intergalactic war.

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International feels like the Men in Black equivalent of a latter-day Die Hard sequel, a movie that succeeds its predecessors in name only and fundamentally misunderstands what made the original appealing. Not only do writers Art Marcum and Matt Holloway (Iron Man, and more recently, Transformers: The Last Knight) woefully overcomplicate the story of a “mole hunt” in Men in Black without making it any more intriguing, they barely seem interested in alien cultures as a counterpoint to our own, and seem to assume that Thompson and Hemsworth will provide all of the necessary buddy-cop chemistry that their characters lack.

It’s bad enough that the movie takes for granted the sense of discovery and especially validation that M should be experiencing every time the curtain is pulled back on some oddball detail that turns out to be alien in origin. But Gray turns what could or perhaps should have been the film’s straight woman in Thompson’s M into a hectoring scold opposite an absolutely unrestrained Hemsworth, whose H is insufferable for reasons that are never made clear.

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Moreover, Gray directs the dialogue scenes like he can’t wait to get through them, and drags out the pacing of the action scenes without establishing any geography—much less relevance to the characters’ respective personalities—to invest them with any emotional weight. But what makes it all so extraordinarily frustrating is that there actually is a concept buried deep inside this disaster that reimagines the dynamic of the original film’s two leads in a clever and meaningful way that Gray and his writers steer away from at every opportunity.

Ultimately, the fumbled delivery of Men in Black: International suggests that the movie was as much of a bureaucratic nightmare for the filmmakers to bring together as it must be to keep secret thousands of alien species interacting with the people of Earth. The unfortunate disadvantage for viewers is that they can’t be neuralized and forget that this particular encounter ever happened.

1.5 out of 5

Images: Sony

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