It’s been seven years since Will Smith last put on the signature shades that made him look good; 19 years since Tommy Lee Jones dawned the last suit he’d ever wear; and 22 years since Barry Sonnenfeld first brought us into the world of intergalactic protection. Now, director F. Gary Gray takes us across the pond for Men In Black: International, a fun but ultimately wasted showcase for its new crop of agents as they try to protect the most dangerous weapon in the universe from getting into the hands of an evil alien race known as The Hive.
I say wasted because the film never truly develops the London branch’s star recruits, H (Chris Hemsworth) and M (Tessa Thompson), beyond their superficial exteriors. Hemsworth and Thompson are great, both on their own and as a team, but the characters they portray are nothing but a pair of one-note Barbie dolls saving the world. H is your typical dashingly cocky rogue that plays by his own rules to the chagrin of his coworkers and his boss, High T (Liam Neeson), who was also once his partner when they first battled the Hive with nothing but their wits and series 7D atomizers.
M, on the other hand, is girl-power incarnate. She is meant to follow in the footsteps of Smith’s J, a young ingenue who learns everything on the job while battling aliens in the field. But where J learned and improved upon the skills that we already knew he had before being recruited, M seems to know how to do everything, from fist-fights to rebuilding alien technology and free-soloing rocky cliffs, with absolutely no basis for those skills whatsoever. All we know about her before she weasels her way into New York’s MIB office is that she’s halfway intelligent. But nowhere do we see that skill utilized in the back half of the film.
The script is so confused with itself, as a matter of fact, that it makes M come off rather dense. One scene in the trailer shows the pair in front of a nice new car. M says she’s driving and then gets in on the left side of the car. Because it’s London, the steering wheel is actually on the right. Funny, maybe, but where this happens in the context of the film is actually after we’ve already seen M in several cars where that fact has already been established. So it doesn’t make sense for why she wouldn’t already know that the driver’s seat is on the opposite side of the car.
There are some moments when Gray attempts to build some depth between his two leads, but never does it go far enough, always remaining just on the cusp of true emotion. If it wasn’t for Pawny (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), the diminutive sidekick the pair pick up along the way, I’m not sure any of the “intimate” moments between the characters would have worked. The film is at its best when all of that is set aside to let Hemsworth and Thompson dig into the explosive action sequences.
Which is a good thing, since most of the villains are visually nice to look at, but seem stale otherwise. The twins (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) that are hunting for a small crystal that transforms into what amounts to a hand-held Death Star, demonstrate massive powers that make it hard to believe they wouldn’t get their hands on the weapon with the snap of a finger. (In other words, they are easily thwarted far too often). Then there’s the Hive, which is all build-up with no true landing (though the creature design is visually compelling). And last but not least there’s your typical mole within the agency.
Gray does his best to bring the franchise back to what it originally was back in 1997 — a fun adventure of mystery and intrigue with some great action sequences and a more down-to-earth vibe than the previous two sequels. For the most part he accomplishes that. Most of the film feels grounded in the reality being setup, never straying into cartoon shenanigans better suited for a spoof than an A-list summer blockbuster.
But no matter how much you fall in love with Hemsworth and Thompson, they’re never able to match the dichotomy of Jones and Smith (and in some respects, Smith and Josh Brolin as the younger version of agent K), probably because the characters are too much alike. It doesn’t help that writers Matt Holloway and Art Marcum aren’t quite able to cohesively transition from one scene to the next or build strong character arcs.
One early sequence shows M discover a runaway creature after it breaks into her house, which is meant to setup M’s quest to find the men in black. There are multiple problems with this scene, however: 1) When a pair of agents show up, the parents tell them their daughter is in the house, but they don’t attempt to wipe her memory along with theirs; 2) the agents never search the house for the creature; and 3) the bond that M is supposed to make with the creature that will pay off later in the film doesn’t establish a strong enough bond between the characters that make sense.
There are other moments like this sprinkled throughout the film that keep it from rising to the heights of the original film. Because of the visuals, the action sequences, and the charisma of the two leads, you want to like this entry into the franchise, but the script can’t find a strong enough footing to hold everything together; and when the foundation is weak, so goes what’s built upon it.
My Grade: B+
Most of the deadpan-style comedy in writer/director James Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die is clever and witty, but there’s an oddness that can’t seem to rectify itself as Jarmusch doesn’t go far enough with the scattered meta-humor and the slew of cameos that are as shockingly bizarre as the third act of the film. B
The Secret Life of Pets 2 plays more like a trilogy of vignettes than a cohesive story as all of the returning pets are split up into groups to have their own adventures that eventually tie into one another, each one with a few highlights that tend to overpower the core of the story, which is to believe in yourself and not let fear hold you back. B
Next week, new movies include Toy Story 4, Child’s Play, Wild Rose and Anna. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.