Men in Black: International is a catastrophe
Men in Black: International introduces us to a new rookie agent, M (Tessa Thompson) who witnessed an alien as a kid, and has spent her life tracking down the Men in Black. O (Emma Thompson), introduced in Men in Black 3, sends her off to the London branch under the command of High T (Liam Neeson). From there, she is paired with H (Chris Hemsworth), an MIB agent who coasts by on charm and luck rather than procedure. The pair end up globe-hopping in order to...nevermind. There’s not really that much plot here. The characters go from place to place, but it is seemingly random as to how they progress forward into the investigation. It's as if writers Art Macum and Matt Holloway wrote a bunch of scenes but barely connected them together. It doesn’t feel like an attempt at a Raymond Chandler noir, where nothing makes sense on purpose, either. They do meet up with a small alien who lives on a chessboard voiced by Kumail Nanjiani who makes a valiant effort at saving the film, but to little (comedic) relief.
Rather, Men in Black: International is a complete and utter whiff of a movie. A failure on almost every creative level and utterly dead on arrival. And outside of Nanjiani’s character, it isn’t all that funny either. But what makes watching the film such a frustrating exercise is that this franchise has good bones, and this film has a great cast. Yet all of it is wasted because of a fundamental misunderstanding of what made the original film work, a disregard for character dynamics, and the kind of lazy blandness that manages to prevent any aspect of this film from having a personality. On a technical level, the movie is fine, but it's neither charming nor weird enough to leave any sort of impact. The kind of soulless studio production that exits the brain from the back as soon as the light from the screen touches the eye.
Circling back around, there are a few elements that make the original film basically perfect. First, like Ghostbusters, the world and threats in it are serious. The comedy largely comes from the genuine reactions of the characters to the insane things happening around them and the mix of their personalities. International abandons all sense of stakes in favor of trying every vein of comedy. But that just underlines how aimless the film is. A character that H claims to be close to dies in the film and I genuinely can’t tell if the character is actually mourning or joking about how close they were. That’s a problem. A huge problem when you’re making a genre-comedy. International makes Evolution look like a masterpiece.
The dynamic between Will Smith’s J and Tommy Lee Jones’ K in the first film was perfect. J was an NYPD cop with smarts and a sarcastic attitude, and K was the ‘seen-it-all’ veteran who deadpanned every single line reading. The dynamic works because there is a genuine cultural clash happening on several levels, and their arcs within the film underline this juxtaposition and mine it for a strong comedic effect. Neither M nor H have an arc, and their archetypes are rarely used in their dynamic. M is presented as the serious one and as an MIB ‘fangirl’ of sorts, but the film leans into neither of these to develop her character over the course of the film.
Men in Black: International is not a badly written film with good action, or a decent comedy with sub-par action. It is poorly written with boring action. The kind of viewing experience that makes you thankful for times when you sit in traffic because at least you can listen to a podcast or something. Forgettable except for how frustrating it was because it has all the ingredients to be something great. It makes me want to put together a spec script and send it to Sony.
Men in Black: International opens in Philly theaters today.