IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 114 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Molly has been aware of the Men in Black since she was a child, determined to one day join the ranks of the elite agency. Finally finding her way in, she’s offered her a probationary period in London. Arriving overseas, Agent M meets Agent H, a rogue MIB officer playing by his own rules, still enjoying fame associated with his takedown of The Hive, a deadly alien force. The partners are soon in charge of showing an alien dignitary a night on the town.…
It was only yesterday when I was joking with a friend on how it’s amazing that there haven’t been scores of PC-obsessed types whining about the fact that the first part of this film’s title is Men In Black. Well, lo and behold, it seems that star Tessa Thompson has been suggesting alternative titles even though she’s okay with the original one for now, and that co-star Emma Thompson has been trying to get it changed. I’m guessing that these two fools are unaware that the title derives from the actual men in black of UFO conspiracy theories, supposed men dressed in black suits claiming to be government agents who harass or threaten UFO witnesses to keep them quiet about what they’ve seen – or that they just don’t care because they’re so blinkered. At least this fourth installment of the franchise jokingly refers to this in one scene, though it’s another film from modern Hollywood with some “reverse” sexism in it – actually no, let’s just call it sexism because that’s what it is. I don’t generally get bothered by sexism in a movie unless it really is full-on, and maybe I shouldn’t even whinge too much about one where the women tend to be far more capable than the men and where the heroine is smarter than the hero constantly, but the fact that this kind of thing is becoming so common today [even in things like The Incredibles 2] is hardly progress. Surely it’s meant to be about equality guys [oh sorry, was my usage of the word “guys” sexist?] more than anything else?
Anyway, hopefully that’s all the social/political stuff out of the way, though I could rant about this for ages. More to the point, is Men In Black: International any good? It offers a passably okay couple of hours if you need to waste some time, but it’s a pretty bland affair, lacking much of the quirkiness that was in the other films, feeling much more like a generic Marvel film in fact. Perhaps that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, seeing how it re-pairs Thompson with Chris Hemsworth who were such a hoot together in Thor: Ragnarok. However, it almost totally botches what should have been its strongest element. Hemsworth is given virtually all the humour, yet the lines he’s been given are rarely actually funny, and after a short while he just becomes hugely irritating with the way he has to make light of every single situation but with so little. Thompson is hugely appealing when she’s allowed to be, but she often just seems to be acting around Hemsworth, and I could feel the writing trying to force Hemsworth to stop long enough for Thompson or anybody else to act around him, but she and indeed others are not that great at doing that and it just doesn’t work. In the other Men In Black movies you had Will Smith which was the core of the humour, but you also had Tommy Lee Jones who added his own wit into the mix and formed a symbiosis with Smith, resulting in a perfect team-up, both of them having the right balance of being utilised. That symbiosis just isn’t there for the team-up in this movie, and it suffers a great deal for it.
This is not,of course, to say that there aren’t other problems. We open with Agent H and Agent High T in action on top of the Eiffel Tower, interrupting a proposal before firing at some alien menace at the bottom. Chronologically this event is from near the end of the film, so we then flash back to many years before. There’s no real reason for the movie to do this, it adds nothing whatsoever. We now first meet Molly, as a little girl, the kind who has the likes of ‘A Brief History Of Time’ as bedroom reading. Her parents see an alien, and in no time the MIBs are round with their memory-removing neuralysers, but Molly finds it in her room and for the next couple of decades tries to find the MIB headquarters, even trying to get a job with the CIA involving “the people up there” in a very nicely played scene. Eventually she finds her destination, and becomes a recruit, though despite the first movie being used as a partial template throughout, here the training is rushed through and in no time Molly is in London where Emma Thompson’s Agent O is unimpressed by what she has to say until she mentions that she’s alone and has no ties. We encounter H again, pretending to buy some kind of drug from an alien but being found out. After a fight, he’s poisoned by a bite from a three-headed snake, but the female alien that’s present will give him the antidote as long as she’s gives her what she wants – which is sex! The next few scenes involving him just seem to be about how “hot” Hemsworth is, blatantly objectifying the actor in a way that, if it had involved a female, would no doubt have got accusations of sexism from morons [okay, it really is out of the way now, I promise].
The curious, whimsical, wide-eyed, and optimistic M and the cocky, cheeky, insubordinate, reckless H instantly get along despite being very different. Their first job is one of protection, but the alien in their supposed care is soon murdered right in front of their eyes by two extra-terrestrial assassins who are reminiscent of the Twins in The Matrix Reloaded but project no menace whatsoever, during the first of the film’s mediocre action scenes and perhaps the only good thrill moment when a bomb sends a car crashing into the air and into a building. Before he dies, the victim gives M a strange box to protect with a warning about MIB. Could somebody in HQ be up to no good? Who could it be? There are only two real suspects and even as rubbish a movie detective as me guessed who it was really early on – in fact even the trailer got me wondering. But then carelessness is prevalent with this film, such as the ignorance of certain franchise rules like not being seen with alien tech in public. At one point our twosome ride by loads of people on a super alien bike and do nothing about it! The screenplay by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway really is poor in so many aspects, and director F. Gary Gray, whose one decent film [Straight Outta Compton] seems to have been a fluke, provides little spark or urgency as our hero and heroine go from London to Marrakesh to Naples to Paris to stop terrible events from happening. While I applaud the fact that his action scenes aren’t a chaotic mess like you get in a lot of films now, his direction seems largely anonymous, and the touch of Barry Sonnenfeld is sorely missed.
What laughs do come off tend to be rehashed, like alien celebrities, and when a second character joins the story who constantly tries to be funny but rarely succeeds despite being alien and tiny, the film really grates. The CG is usually pretty good, even when we get up real close to the faces of aliens, but seeing as every single special effect is now done digitally there can’t help but be some shoddy bits [look out for one very roughly rendered CG shot in the a sequence], and it’s very depressing seeing as even the third movie employed some practical stuff yet now we have none. There is some very cool tech as the likes of trains and bikes turn into sleek futuristic vehicles, and a nice creature to enjoy in the climax, but even Rebecca Ferguson showing up two thirds of the way through can’t make up for the fact that the human side of things is far from great. Rafe Spall is amusing as Agent C who continually butts heads with H, but Liam Neeson just seems to be on auto-pilot, while no amount of smarminess from Hemsworth can disguise the fact he barely has a character to play. We’re told that he’s the best agent of the agency, but we never get to learn why, we never see him do anything that is different from anyone else. All you get is an agent who’s arrogant and annoying, and it’s hard to believe that a character like Thompson’s would put up with his crap for more than a minute despite him being supposedly “hot”.
Men In Black: International isn’t truly bad, and it does expand the franchise’s universe in ways a sequel could really capitalise on, but it’s just run of the mill and often careless and lazy, at least in the final cut – it underwent re-shoots, though has clearly been clumsily edited at some points with scenes being cut away from before they seem to have finished. And it now thinks things, for example, us just being told that an alien species is evil without actually informing or showing us why, are enough. It forgets most of what made the 1997 so fresh and entertaining. Even music composer Danny Elfman can’t seem to be bothered, his score mostly just employing his original MIB theme. And when its final scene seems to reference one of the very best blockbusters from the ‘80s, that’s just asking for trouble, because you may just wish that you’d watched that for the umpteenth time instead. You won’t need a neuralyser to forget this film in a flash.