Men in Black International movie review: Chris Hemsworth is no Will Smith; the film is unfunny, unmemorable, unnecessary
Men in Black: International
Director - F Gary Gray
Cast - Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson, Rafe Spall, Kumail Nanjiani, Emma Thompson
Rating - 1/5
It takes special effort for a 2019 film to be out-woked by its 22-year-old predecessor, but that is exactly the sort of relationship Men in Black: International shares with the original film, which is still as relevant today as it was in 1997.
At the end of the day, these movies are about refugees and immigrants, and the inherent decency of human beings for providing ‘illegal aliens’ - on the run from civil war or whatever on their planets - the asylum that they need. For MiB: International to not only be careless about the built-in subtext of its franchise, but to be wilfully ignorant of it, is unforgivable. Especially now, when the themes that the original Men in Black was talking about have fully matured. It’s like if George Orwell were to write a sequel to 1984, and make it solely about the television industry.
Watch the Men in Black: International trailer here
MiB: International, however, is a shockingly unambitious film; unfunny, unmemorable, and for most of its two-hour duration, utterly unbearable. It is at once overly complicated, yet plotless - which leaves you with the decidedly upsetting feeling of being left behind, but with absolutely no desire to catch up. It’s a lose-lose situation, one that even the usually reliable Chris Hemsworth can’t correct.
He’s paired with his Thor: Ragnarok co-star Tessa Thompson here, but the film has absolutely no idea what to do with them. Want odd-couple banter? Sure. Quips and hijinks? Why not. How about some romance? At this point, I don’t even care.
MiB: International, in addition to discarding the wonderfully absurd tone of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’ original trilogy of films, fails to utilise the proven chemistry of its two leads. It anchors them to a screenplay so shoddy, that it almost seems as if they signed on to a different film altogether, but were contractually obligated to shoot another.
And it feels strange to even blame director F Gary Gray for this misfire, because not a single moment of the film has any of that swagger that defined some of his previous work - even the largely forgettable The Fate of the Furious. At least that film had the decency to double down on the silliness of its set-up - who could forget Dwayne Johnson nudging a nuclear missile off target? - but MiB: International is the latest victim of a condition that I’ve decided should be called ‘Marvelitis’.
It involves taking a previously successful franchise - known for its inimitable quirkiness - and retrofitting it to suit the tastes of the widest audience possible, usually by sacrificing the very elements that made it popular in the first place. In the last 12 months alone, Aquaman has done it, Shane Black’s Predator reboot has done it; heck, even Game of Thrones has done it.
By the looks of it, this trend isn’t going away anytime soon. And one of the more annoying aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that Men in Black: International co-opts is their rather flaky understanding of tone. It’s a film in which Hemsworth’s character, moments away from death, chooses to make a (poor) joke. In another scene, in which his Agent H and Thompson’s Agent M are stranded in the North African desert, he is made to deliver lines that are so cloying, they must have been written by one of those thieving Instagram poets.
Speaking of North Africa, Men in Black: International is the first film in the series to venture outside America. Like the John Wick series, which introduced international versions of the Continental hotel in successive sequels, and the Kingsman films, which introduced an American counterpart in the second film, MiB: International - as the title suggests - reveals that the Men in Black has branches all over the world. This film is set mostly inside the UK division, which gives Hemsworth an opportunity to pretend like this is his James Bond audition.
But as with the rest of the film, he’s torn between playing Agent H either as a parody, or with suave sincerity. And F Gary Gray leaves most of his cast stranded, including Liam Neeson, who is usually on top of these things. While promoting the comparably terrible film Battleship, Neeson recalled a piece of advice he’d received from Clint Eastwood. Not all films require you to deliver a performance, he said. Sometimes, all you need to do is ‘hit your marks and say your lines’. I suspect Neeson spent his time on Men in Black: International repeating these wise words to whoever was willing to listen.
The Men in Black films have further distanced themselves from the wonky sensibilities of director Barry Sonnenfeld’s original with every new entry. His three films in the series were known for having had notoriously difficult productions, but things always ended up working out - the third remains the series’ best - which is why he kept getting invited to return.
But with no Will Smith to fall back on, and without the involvement of several key behind-the-scenes figures such as production designer Bo Welch and maverick makeup artist Rick Baker, MiB: International is like going to a famous chef’s restaurant, and learning that they died, years ago.