The relaunch of the Men in Black franchise did not go as planned. That much was evident by the paltry $30 million the movie scored on opening weekend, a franchise low by over $20 million. But the development and production of Men in Black International was reportedly fraught with tension, from constant script rewrites to clashing visions for what the movie should be, with director F. Gary Gray—who was just coming off the successful one-two punch of Straight Outta Compton and Fate of the Furious—nearly walking off the film multiple times, according to reports.
Indeed, in a new piece over at THR, the Men in Black International problems are detailed at great length. The film originated with two ideas as to how to continue the franchise. The first, as we know, was to cross over the Men in Black franchise with Sony’s Jump Street franchise. The second was to reboot the thing entirely, as bringing back original trilogy stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones proved both too expensive and not “forward thinking” enough.
But the Men in Black/Jump Street crossover movie was derailed when producer Neal Moritz refused to compromise on his customary first-dollar pact—a deal that would see Moritz taking a significant part of the eventual film’s gross, which given the many veteran producers involved with both franchises was not cost effective. This according to THR, who notes that this then forced producers to jettison that plan and reboot Men in Black from the ground up.
Ultimately, however, the vision for Men in Black International was reportedly split between Gray’s take on the film and that of producer Walter F. Parkes, who’s been with the franchise since the beginning. It’s unclear what these dueling visions were, but THR says the original script for the movie—penned by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway—was “edgier” and “more timely,” tying the story into the immigration debate. An early villain for the movie was a music group in the vein of The Beatles, with four people merging into one baddie.
But once filming on Men in Black International began, the script changed almost daily. To that end, stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson even hired their own “dialogue writers” according to THR, with further rewrites stripping away the film’s more “modern” sensibilities. The report notes that Parkes looked to dictate rewrites, even as Marcum and Holloway were also on set. Sources even told THR that Parkes at times also stepped in on directing duties, with Gray trying to exit the production multiple times.
The clashing continued, with the studio then testing two different cuts of the movie during post-production—one by Gray and another by Parkes. Ultimately, they decided to go with the version overseen by Parkes, who also had final cut on the movie. THR goes on to cite sources who say Sony was mostly absent during these tensions, leaving the decision-making up to Parkes and Gray, who clearly didn’t see eye to eye.
While we at Collider have been unable to verify THR’s report, they’re usually pretty solid on this kind of stuff—even if you also have to consider the intentions behind the sources. It is a bit curious how Sony kind of gets off scott-free in this story. Still, this offers some fascinating insight into how major blockbuster movies are made. It’s easy to lay the blame at the feet of the director, whose name is front and center, but when so much money is on the line there are a number of fingers in the pot. Not only did Parkes have strong feelings about the creative direction (not to mention final cut, which is important to note), but when you’re dealing with actors as popular and in-demand as Hemsworth and Thompson, they also want to make sure they’re protected, hence the hiring of separate “dialogue writers” to focus on their characters. Without a unified vision, things can get muddy very quickly.
But while Men in Black International failed to reboot the franchise successfully, and we’ve likely seen the last of this incarnation of the series, the IP is too precious for Sony to simply give up here. Whether they revisit the brand in another movie a few years down the line for maybe even a streaming series is unclear, but you can probably take to the bank that we haven’t seen the last of MiB—even if we’ve probably seen the last of it in this incarnation.
Gray, meanwhile, has already moved on and is set to direct the M.A.S.K. movie while Hemsworth and Thompson remain two of the most in-demand actors working today. And we’ll all forget Men in Black International ever existed by the end of the year.