Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Movie Review: Men in Black International

Men in Black: International ** / *****
Directed by: F. Gary Gray.
Written by: Matt Holloway & Art Marcum based on characters created by Lowell Cunningham.
Starring: Chris Hemsworth (Agent H), Tessa Thompson (Agent M), Rebecca Ferguson (Riza), Liam Neeson (High T), Emma Thompson (Agent O), Kumail Nanjiani (Pawny), Rafe Spall (Agent C), Jess Radomska (Spike – Alien), Viktorija Faith (Jellyfish Alien).
Are people big fans of the Men in Black series? I know the first one was a major hit in 1997, and the second and third films were also hits in 2002 and 2012, but it’s not a series that I hear very many people talk about very often. I know that while I didn’t hate any of the three previous films, I have never really thought about them unless I am directing watching them – they are fun, but meaningless. So we really didn’t need to reboot the series at this point. Having said that, the fact that they cast Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in the lead roles, I was cautiously optimistic that the series would at the very least be as good as the older films – fun, but forgettable. But it really does seem that no one involved in the film really thought this movie through – really worked on making this movie fun. The entire movie coasts on the charm of Hemsworth and Thompson – with an assist by the voice work of Kumail Nanjiani – but there’s really nothing going on here.
In the film, Thompson plays Agent M – the newest member of the Men in Black. As a kid, she met an alien – but the Men in Black who came and erased her parent’s memory, missed her. She has spent her entire life since trying to find those men in black – and she finally does. Impressed enough by that, they offer her a job – on a probationary period – and send her to the London office. There, she’s teamed up with Agent H (Hemsworth) – in order to track down some alien weapon to stop some sort of invasion, etc. It’s not really made all that clear – although, as you watch, you don’t really question it.
We know from Thor Ragnarok that Hemsworth and Thompson are more than capable of being funny in an action movie, and that they have unbelievable chemistry together. They have an easy report with each other, and the ability to play off of watch other in and be extremely charming together. You see some glimpses of that here. But the biggest problem with the film is that it seems to feel the need to rush from one thing to another – and never settles down long enough to let Hemsworth and Thompson do what they do best – which is just to riff.
The introduction of Pawny – a tiny alien, who pledges his allegiance to his new queen Thompson – does help. Nanjiani, a huge fan of the X-Files, and a hilarious comedian, is clearly having a blast in the role. He is basically playing the animal sidekick from a Disney film – like Eddie Murphy in Mulan or Shrek – and he is quite funny. I would be interested to know if Nanjiani did any improve here to punch up Pawny’s lines – apparently Hemsworth and Thompson brought in other writers to try to punch up their dialogue. That shows a little bit, because their funny lines seem to stick out like a sore thumb – like the afterthoughts that they clearly were.
The film is directed by F. Gary Gray, who is a component filmmaker, capable of delivering action beats, and he doesn’t really that bad a job here. He’s a journeyman director though – and he doesn’t really find a way to elevate much here. It is a workman’s job – all done very competent but not very memorable.
The opening weekend box office clearly indicates that audiences didn’t really care that they brought this series back. It’s another indication this summer – following disappointing debuts for Dark Phoenix among others – that Hollywood cannot just reboot or continue a series that audiences used to like. You have to give them a reason to show up. Men in Black International gives people no such reason.

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