MEN IN BLACK INTERNATIONAL

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: F Gary Gray

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Rafe Spall, Kumail Nanjiani, Rebecca Ferguson, Kayvan Novak, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois.

Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in Men in Black: International (2019)

Very few film goers have been clamouring for a fourth film in the Men In Black franchise, but seven years after 2012’s Men In Black III here it is – whether we wanted it or not.

Based on the comic book series created by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers, Men In Black launched in 1997 and introduced us to Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as a mismatched pair of designer sunglass wearing special agents with the secret organisation tasked with protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe. Men In Black II followed in 2002, with MIB III a decade later. MIB III at least tried to shake up the tired material with its time travel plot device that featured Josh Brolin as a younger incarnation of Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K. Men In Black International is a lazy, belated, unnecessary and formulaic attempt to reboot the franchise.

We are introduced to Agent H (Chris Hemsworth, from the Avengers series) a legendary agent who once defeated an attack by an aggressive alien species known as the Hive, using only his wits and his handy series 7 Atomiser. His former partner Agent O (Liam Neeson, from the Taken series of action movies, etc) is now a high ranking bureaucrat in the London branch of the organisation and he feels that H is only a shadow of his former self and worries that he has lost his edge. H is teamed up with newly minted probationary agent M (Tessa Thompson).

As a child Molly had an encounter with a friendly alien creature and also witness a couple of Men in Black agents use their neuralizer memory wiping device on her parents. Since then she has been obsessed with finding out more about these neatly attired agents. Years later she manages to penetrate their headquarters in New York, a feat which impresses Agent O (Emma Thompson), who hires her.

H and M’S first mission together is to protect a visiting alien playboy known as the Vungus (Kayvan Novak). But Vungus is assassinated by a pair of shapeshifting aliens (played by twin French dancers Laurent and Larry Bourgeois). H and M learn that Vungus was concealing a powerful weapon that could be used to destroy entire galaxies. They begin to suspect that someone within the organisation itself is leaking secrets to powerful alien forces. Of course, for anyone familiar with this genre, there will be few surprises when the identity of the traitor is revealed.

This leads to a final showdown atop the Eiffel Tower against the Hive to save the world from destruction.

Men In Black International is fairly formulaic and derivative stuff. This is the first film in the series not to be directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Rather F Gary Gray (Set It Off, Straight Outta Compton, etc) takes over the reins here, but his direction is a bit pedestrian and perfunctory, and lacks Sonnenfeld’s assurance and quirky touches. The film has been written by Matt Holloway and Art Markum, two of the writers of Iron Man, but it lacks any real originality. There are also several flat patches in the script, a lot of the attempts at humour fall flat, and the film overdoses on the CGI created visual effects.

Hemsworth brings a cool, cocky charm and self-deprecating sense of humour to his role here as the daring but reckless H, but he seems to spend most of the film with a knowing smirk plastered on his face. There is one scene in which he picks up a hammer and throws it during a fight, a thin in-joke and reference to his more famous role as Thor. Hemsworth starred with Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok, and the pair have a good chemistry and rapport. She brings a sense of strength and a feisty determination to the role of Agent M.

Emma Thompson reprises her role as the imperious Agent O, thus providing a link to Men In Black III. Although she is given little to do she brings gravitas and a sense of authority to the role. Neeson looks gaunt, sullen and seems bored here, delivering a performance that could have been phoned in.

Rafe Spall is good as the smarmy C, who is jealous of H and his success, while Rebecca Ferguson (from Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, etc) is good in a small role as Riza, an intergalactic arms dealer who shares a history with H.

The disappointing box office results for Men In Black International probably indicates that audiences are growing tired of the lazy and uninspired succession of reboots, remakes, prequels, sequels and empty special effects driven tentpole pictures. After it is all over one wishes that they could use a neuralizer to eradicate this disappointing and unnecessary film from their memories.

★★☆

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