When Men in Black first arrived in theaters in 1997, it was something new and exciting. A sci-fi comedy about chasing aliens was an imaginative idea, and the casting of Will Smith as a rookie secret government operative, with Tommy Lee Jones as his veteran mentor, worked on practically every level. While the sequels that followed never quite reached the heights of the original, they brought new ideas to the table, whether it was Men in Black II turning the tables and making Smith's Agent J the veteran, or how Men in Black III introduced time travel to the mix. Regardless of how they ranked in terms of quality, the Men in Black films were always at least trying. That is, until Men in Black: International.
The latest entry into the franchise, which swaps out the former leads with a Thor: Ragnarok reunion between Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, is not imaginative, exciting, or all that fun. Instead, what audiences are left with is a predictable, cliched, and plodding affair that somehow loses the charm of both the franchise and the chemistry we all know exists between Hemsworth and Thompson.
Men in Black: International follows a new generation of MiB agents, with Thompson stepping in as a rookie that figured out the MiB exists after seeing them in action as a child. Hemsworth, on the other hand, is a hotshot agent in the UK branch who loves to party and takes her under his wing. But instead of building a working relationship between the two, the movie is more interested in having them fight a pair of smoke monsters repeatedly, with a variety of silver laser blasters. None of which seem to do the trick. This is, honestly, the best way to sum up the movie as a whole. It relies on being flashy and cool-looking, without bothering to invest in stories or characters to make audiences care. What's worse, the flashiness is more of the same we've already seen from the other Men in Black movies.
As for the plot, H (Hemsworth) and M (Thompson) get their hands on an especially dastardly alien weapon that they have to keep out of the hands of other aliens that might use it for evil purposes. It's a simple enough story with a twist that is telegraphed very obviously in the opening minutes of the film. That's followed by nearly two hours of weak jokes about how the agency should not be called Men in Black when women are in positions of power and how ridiculous that steering wheels are on the right side of cars in the United Kingdom--real cutting edge humor, as you can tell.
The one saving grace of the entire film is Kumail Nanjiani, who voices a tiny alien named Pawny that takes a liking to Agent M. The lines he delivers are funny enough to make you want more of him in the movie. Likewise, Rafe Spall's Agent C, whose entire motivation is hating H because he gets special treatment, has some small fun moments in the film that made me want to spend more time with his character.
Wasted are Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson, who should honestly team up for their own MiB movie, because who wouldn't want to watch that? Instead, they're the overlords of their particular MiB offices and don't get to do much at all.
When they announced Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson were making a Men in Black movie together, the world rejoiced. After seeing how wonderfully they worked together on-screen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this one seemed like a slam dunk--especially when you throw director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) into the mix. Yet what we're left with is a movie that's just mediocre and unimaginative. Everyone involved deserved better, and so does the audience.
It makes you wonder how good that proposed Men in Black/21 Jump Street crossover movie could have been. Because chances are it would've been better than this.