Hemsworth & Thompson Stranded in Messy, Meandering New MIB Relaunch
Men in Black: International
Starring Chris Hemsworth & Tessa Thompson
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Those pesky aliens.
They keep plotting, keep invading, keep marauding, keep scheming, keep sneaking around the cosmos—and keep the Men in Black in business.
This is the fourth in the Men in Black action-comedy franchise, which began back in 1997 with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as a pair of dapper-cool partners in a super-secret organization that monitored extraterrestrial activity on Earth. Smith, fresh off his TV success as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Jones, an Oscar-winning actor for The Fugitive, went on to star in two MIB sequels.
But they’re not in Men in Black: International, which signals a fresh start for the sci-fi series with new stars and a nod toward gender parity.
Chris Hemsworth stars as H, a top agent in MIB’s London branch. A dashing, devastatingly handsome doofus, he’s certainly got a few cocky strains of James Bond somewhere in his DNA—when he beds a seductive space-alien vixen, for instance, so that they both may get something they want.
Tessa Thompson plays Molly, who comes aboard MIB—as Agent M—after an early-childhood close encounter with a cute-and-cuddly space alien left her insatiably curious about the wonders of the universe.
Hemsworth, of course, is best known for playing Thor, in his own spinoff Marvel movies as well as alongside The Avengers. Pop culture fans will connect that he and Thompson aligned previously in Thor: Ragnarok (she played the Norse battle goddess Valkyrie) and in Avengers: Endgame. (Just in case you need a reminder, there’s a whimsical Thor reference, when H needs a quick assist in a fight scene.)
Hemsworth and Thompson synch into a nice, easygoing synergy as MIB partners; he’s always had some fine comedic chops, and she’s a rising star from her roles in Westworld, two Creed movies and Selma. But director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, Law Abiding Citizen, The Fate of the Furious) doesn’t give them much fodder for their chemistry to spark. The movie skips along, from London to Paris to Naples and Marrakesh, without much of a reason—other than to justify the “International” in its title, I suppose.
The sets scream backlot and green-screen projections, and the plot is a knot of messy shoestrings of barely connected ideas about a mole in MIB, a sinister cosmic force called the Hive, and an uber-destructive whatzit coveted by a couple of breakdancing alien assassins (played by French performance artists Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, identical twins who won, as an act called Les Twins, season one of NBC’s World of Dance in 2017).
Liam Neeson is High T, the head of MIB’s London branch, and Emma Thompson reprises her role from 2012’s MIB 3 as Agent O, the head of the agency’s American division. Rebecca Ferguson plays Riza, a sadistic alien arms dealer—with an extra set of arms.
But a little computer-animated alien character, the pocket-sized Pawney (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), steals the show. He gets the best lines and the snappiest jokes, and the movie’s energy surges whenever he’s on the screen.
Mostly, though, MIB: International strands its cast and its franchise with a script that feels stale and cookie-cutter, underwhelming F/X, a messy, meandering plot and a shortage of the crisp, feisty zip and zing that made the original movie so much gosh-darn fun.
There are homages and in-jokes pointing to the franchise’s past, aliens of every shape and size, and lots of shiny, E.T.-zapping guns and weaponry. When Neeson’s character notes the “intergalactic refugees seeking protection on Earth,” it’s difficult to dismiss the connection to real-world refugees. And the vehicles! One car is an arsenal of hidden defensive hardware; subway trains transform into sleek, interdimensional trams; H and M soar around on a jet cycle that, with the push of a button, leaps into hyperspace.
And speaking of leaping, there’s the issue of a woman breaking the glass ceiling and eagerly jumping into a legion of men—the Men in Black. It only took, what, 22 years? Early in her recruitment process, Molly (Tessa Thompson) asks O (Emma Thompson) why they aren’t called Women in Black.
“Don’t start,” O cuts her off. “I’ve had the conversation.” In other words, the MIB patriarchy is solid, established, entrenched—and it is what it is. It’s a man’s world, a boy’s club—and a film franchise that’s already earned some $1.65 billion with “Men” in the title.
But Tessa Thompson enthusiastically makes her “M” mark.
In the end, she’s in the driver’s seat, quite literally—proving M can not only pilot H’s car, but that Thompson can also take control of Hemworth’s summer-blockbuster movie.
“I’m smart, I’m motivated and I look good in black,” M says. Yep, she sure is and she certainly does, especially in a movie that needs all the drive she can give it.
In theaters Friday, June 14, 2019