Men in Black International is Harmless, Mediocre Fun

Originally posted on The Film Experience

Jettisoning all subtext of the original and heart of the third and formerly final movie, Men in Black International is definitely a step-down from the highs of this intermittent, long-running franchise. Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson don’t enjoy nearly the same chemistry that sparked in Thor Ragnarok, their personalities clashing in a way that can best be described as awkward, and not the good kind with bumbling and sexual tension in tow. It’s all so rushed and Thompson’s arc leaves something to be desired. And yet, I couldn’t help smiling through half of it…

It’s almost a throwback, a harmless, kind-hearted romp that eschews snark for easy-going camaraderie. A surprising number of twists (some predictable, some not) keep us on our toes and the supporting cast is quite lively. There’s Kumail Nanjiani as a cute little pocket alien named Pawnee, and Rebecca Ferguson as a three-armed intergalactic arms dealer who shares a steamy past with Agent H (Hemsworth). Rafe Spall imbues Agent C, a bespectacled obstacle for our heroes at the agency, with a bit more than a middle manager’s nosy irritation. Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson are there to cash checks and nothing more, but you might have guessed that from the trailers anyway. Director F. Gary Gray handles the effects and scifi fisticuffs better than he did on Fast & Furious, doubling down on the franchise’s kooky aesthetic and giving us everything from talking beards to an alien nightclub where people like E.T. and T.J. can drink, ride, and die together. Such creative fun does not extend to the film’s primary villains, a twin set of otherworldly beings who come equipped with super powers because, apparently, we can’t have a big-budget action film without super powers. These two can alter matter at will, throwing the Men in Black for a loop. They’re used to fighting giant bugs and assorted creatures, not gods who can bend the rules of the known universe.

Somehow International manages to be somewhat entertaining in spite of its myriad problems. Dull villains, derivative plotting, and some miscasting threaten to sink the spaceship, but Hemsworth is charming as hell and so are the weirdo aliens. With a better script that aims higher than forgettable hijinks, the new direction of this franchise could be something in the right hands should it keep going. Judging by the box office results, though, that future seems unlikely.

Grade: C+

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