REVIEW: Men in Black International (2019)
The Men in Black franchise has taken an odd path to get here – Barry Sonnenfeld’s first outing in 1997 was an excellent example of a blockbuster – it had tonnes of originality, excellent performances (and chemistry, using the mismatched buddy cop formula well, with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones), interesting creatures and world-building and really funny dialogue. It also had one of the most memorable performances in any franchise blockbuster, that of Vincent D’Onofrio playing an alien who adopts human skin – his physicality in this role is a sight to behold. It was followed in 2002 by a disappointing sequel. The franchise was resurrected a decade later, in the well-received MIB3, which had Josh Brolin playing a younger version of Tommy Lee Jone’s Agent K. Again, the franchise lay fallow for several years, until Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson teamed up in Taika Waititi’s Thor: Raganarok. This gave someone the idea to reboot the MIB franchise yet again, with a new director (F. Gary Gray) and Hemsworth/Thompson as the new ‘mismatched, buddy cop’ pairing. When behind the scenes photos were released of the pair, in their black suits and shades, looking the epitome of cool, excitement levels rose. They had made a great team in Ragnarok, bouncing off one another, using Waititi’s ultra-dry dialogue. Hemsworth, in particular, has been leaning into his comedic strengths recently with the Ghostbusters reboot also showing that he is adept at physical humour, as well as dead-pan delivery.
So – where did it all wrong? Unfortunately, Men in Black International does not have the witty dialogue of either Taika Waititi or Paul Feig, instead it has a crushingly dull script and characters that it is really really hard to care about. There is absolutely nothing memorable about this film, save for the (literally) tiny saving grace of Kumail Nanjiani’s smol alien Pawny. Emma Thompson appears all-to-briefly, presumably to pick up a nice pay-cheque. Liam Neeson and Rafe Spall play members of the London branch of MIB, who H (Hemsworth) rubs up against for being such a rebel (sigh). Thompson’s M has a bit more backstory than H, giving us at least something to cling onto, but both main characters are so thinly drawn, you can’t form any attachment to them.
For a film which includes locations such as Marrakesh, an Italian island, Paris, New York and London to be this crushingly boring is quite an achievement. My mind wandered so much while watching this film, I got totally distracted by Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson’s British/Irish teeth and I started pondering if they will be the last generation who will be allowed on screen with such lax dentistry. There is a good bit at the start where Tessa Thompson wears Doc Martens and a good bit about half-way through where Hems wears pink trousers. Am I running out of things to say about this movie? You betcha.
One of the main reasons that Hemsworth’s character, in particular, doesn’t work can’t be explained without spoiling the ending of the film. Hemsworth is playing the kind of cocky, arrogant role that we saw from early Thor – there is absolutely nothing new or inspiring here. The villains and the twist are extremely bland, done-to-death formats and I just wish that Hems and Tessa had been given more to work with. Rebecca Ferguson has what amounts to a cameo as an alien who looks completely human, part from having three arms. Kayvan Novak with his beard alien is slightly more inventive, I guess. There is nothing remotely comparable to the thrill of seeing the aliens of the first MIB and the genuine feeling that there was a hidden world that existed behind our own.
Fans of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson have been hotly anticipating this movie for months. The trailer looked encouraging. We all knew that this pairing had great chemistry and comedic timing because of Ragnarok. To say that the finished result is a let-down is an understatement. It’s kind of beggars belief that you could take these ingredients and make something so thuddingly dull, but somehow it has happened. The fault has to mainly lie with the script-writers and the studio for putting in such lazy effort, thinking that the MIB brand will be enough to sustain it. I can assure you, that it is not. A huge disappointment.