‘Men in Black: International’ Review: Two Electric Leads Elevate a So-So Sequel

     June 12, 2019

Jesus, Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson wear the hell out of some suits. That’s a  shallow way to begin, I know, but it’s important to know right up front that director F. Gary Gray‘s Men in Black: International hinges completely on the presence of its two endlessly charismatic leads, both of whom I must repeat wear those perfectly tailored suits from all the pre-release images for at least 90% of the film. I urge theaters to post warning signs for the faint of heart. But it’s not just the cut of their cloth. In the grand tradition established by forefathers of the bad sci-fi film like Ewan McGregor in the Star Wars prequels and Michael Fassbender in Alien: Covenant, the talent, timing, and charm of Hemsworth and Thompson are able to neuralyze away a pretty middle-of-the-road script by duo Matt Holloway and Art Marcum (Iron Man, Transformers: The Last Knight) that features no shortage of jokes and story beats that shoot for the moon and don’t even land among the stars.

Molly (Thompson) has known aliens exist since she witnessed her parents getting mind-wiped by a pair of dark suits as a little girl, a lifelong obsession that leads her straight to the Men in Black. As the first civilian to find the galaxy-defending agency on her own, Molly is recruited into the MiB by Agent O—played by an extremely game Emma Thompson who manages to make her every line sound both authoritative and hilarious—re-dubbed Agent M, and sent to the London division overseen by High T (Liam Neeson). It’s there she’s paired up with hotshot Agent H (Hemsworth), who once saved the world from the dreaded Hive but has fallen into arrogance and clumsiness since. During a simple alien-sitting mission gone wrong, H and M accidentally come into possession of the most powerful weapon in the galaxy, an item plenty of people are willing to kill for — even a possible mole within the Men in Black itself.


Image via Sony Pictures

Story-wise, International suffers from the same two issues plaguing most big-money blockbusters of the last few years: A barely-explained MacGuffin and a personality-free villain to chase after it. There’s certainly no brilliant turn here like the Vincent D’Onofrio bug-in-a-human-suit from the original MiB, and there is definitely no “galaxy is on Orion’s belt” level twist. (There are a few twists, most of which you don’t need a telescope to spot within the 15-minute mark.) Instead, the antagonistic extraterrestrials are represented by a pair of shape-shifting sparkly-cloud aliens played by Larry and Laurent Bourgeois, the identical-twin model/dancer duo better known as Les Twins. To be clear, the brothers Bourgeois are very good at dancing—a talent the film briefly puts to use, whether the scene calls for it or not (note: it does not)—but aren’t really given actual characters to play. They have almost zero lines, instead popping up from set-piece to set-piece to vaguely menace, all for a weapon we know next to nothing about. None of this is particularly bad, but after dozens of Tesseracts, Mother Boxes, and All-Sparks, it’s the same flavor of uninteresting ice cream we’ve been getting scoops of for years.

The promise International does deliver on is in expanding the Men in Black Universe. Where the original three entries played like intergalactic battles that took place solely in New York, this film trots some serious globe, hopping from the U.K. to Marrakesh to Italy to France. I actually really appreciate the way this movie works to add depth to the human element; it reminded me of the way the John Wick movies keep piling on the mythos, promising there are more layers to dig through. If only the new aliens themselves were as interesting. There’s not really any memorable creature-features to talk of—an unpleasantly horny alien gag early on in the film actually almost turned me off the story for good—except for Pawny, the pint-sized Kumail Nanjiani-voiced bodyguard who truly earns all the biggest laugh lines.


Image via Columbia Pictures

But, again, at the center of this mish-mosh are Hemsworth and Thompson, who elevate a number of bland action set-pieces by just radiating personality. It’s like using rocket fuel in a 2010 Toyota Prius. Both leads have an old-school-ish movie star quality to them, a sort of Cary Grant-cool that somehow feels simultaneously everyman relatable and unimaginably larger than life. And they both know how to utilize it in different ways. As Agent H, Hemsworth is basically ramping up the most dick-ish of Thor Odinson’s personality quirks, but weaponizing well-timed smirks or winks—or, let’s be honest, an unbuttoned button—to make us still like him. Thompson has the harder role; Agent M is extremely competent and a bit of a fangirl for the Men in Black at the same time. Thompson combines those two qualities into pure, crackling energy.

That’s the funny part, really. Thanks to the combination of Hemsworth + Thompson + the world-building, I’d watch the hell out of a sequel to this movie despite feeling cold about it overall. I’d watch a couple of around-the-world spin-offs. I’d definitely, 1000% like to know more about Rebecca Ferguson‘s character, an intergalactic arms dealer who only has a brief role to play here. Men in Black: International is capital-letter Just Fine, but the potential, like the universe, is infinite.

Rating: B-

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