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Men in Black International Movie Review

Men in Black International (2019) movie poster Men in Black International

Theatrical Release: June 14, 2019 / Running Time: 115 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: F. Gary Gray / Writers: Art Marcum, Matt Holloway (screenplay); Lowell Cunningham (Malibu comic)

Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Agent H), Tessa Thompson (Agent M/Molly), Kumail Nanjiani (voice of Pawny), Rebecca Ferguson (Riza), Rafe Spall (Agent C), Emma Thompson (Agent O), Liam Neeson (Agent High T), Laurent Bourgeois (Alien Twin), Larry Bourgeois (Alien Twin), Kayvan Novak (Vungus, Nasr, Bassam), Spencer Wilding (Luca Brasi), Marcy Harriell (Molly's Mom), Inny Clemons (Molly's Dad), Mandeiya Flory (Young Molly)


Sony has not ranked first among the movie studios at the box office since 2012. That summer saw Sony's Columbia Pictures branch resurrecting
and rebooting the two biggest franchises in the studio's history with Men in Black 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man released five weeks apart. Franchises are all the rage in Hollywood and Sony doesn't have many of them, which explains why they're expediting another Jumanji sequel this year as well as reviving Bad Boys and giving Ghostbusters another shot in 2020. The studio has Spider-Man, whose third live-action series this century began with promise on account of figuring out legally how to connect the character to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the exception of the lucrative animated Hotel Transylvania line, every other modern Sony hit -- Jump Street, Karate Kid, Paul Blart, Grown Ups -- has either not translated to an active series or has already run its course. (They no longer have James Bond, which has always belonged to MGM but with whom Sony had a fruitful partnership on the last four films.)

And that, not vocal demand or filmmaker interest, is why we get Men in Black International this week. This fourth entry to the series that began with a bang in the summer of 1997 does not have original stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. It also doesn't have Barry Sonnenfeld directing, as he did on the previous three films. It's not a remake or a direct sequel, but something of a spin-off/reboot with hopes of attracting enough attention to continue for a number of years and sequels.

That original 1997 movie, Will Smith's second mega hit in back to back Julys, holds up as great science fiction comedy. Loosely adapted from the not particularly well-known early '90s Aircel/Malibu comic book series (which was ultimately acquired by Marvel), the film had fun with the idea that extraterrestrials were living here among us, their existence and presence covered up by a top-secret government agency. Men in Black II, released in 2002, was much less fun, with Lara Flynn Boyle as a lingerie model villain and Johnny Knoxville being stupid. The aforementioned Men in Black 3 got off to a rough start but recovered with a jaunty time travel tale that largely had Josh Brolin play a 1960s version of Jones' Agent K.

Agents M (Tessa Thompson) and H (Chris Hemsworth) end up in the desert with the tiny, chatty Pawny (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) in "Men in Black: International."

You don't need to have seen any of those to follow International. If you've seen them all, you'll figure out that two of those three are better than this one, which casts Thor: Ragnarok's Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson as our two black-suited leads.

The film opens at the Eiffel Tower in 2016, where Agent H (Hemsworth) and the head of the MIB's UK branch, High T (Liam Neeson), do battle with some of the universe's most feared alien scum, who are escaping from something called the Hive. Twenty years earlier, a girl named Molly encounters an adorable little alien critter and avoids getting her memory of it erased by the MIB's oft-used neuralyzer. She grows up (becoming Thompson) and tries desperately to discover the mysterious organization that came in to deal with that mess in her childhood.

Molly becomes a probationary Agent M after convincing US MIB head Agent O (Emma Thompson, the lone returning cast member from MIB3) to give her a shot.

The specifics of the plot this time around aren't particularly interesting and I dozed through enough of the middle of the movie to make accurate synopsis difficult. Suffice it to say that H and M team up to deal with an incident that goes down in Marrakesh involving shape-shifting alien twins (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, a.k.a. Les Twins). The two MIB agents proceed with playful banter comparable to J and K's clashing personalities. This adventure takes them to the desert and to the sea. They are accompanied at length by Pawny, a tiny alien voiced by The Big Sick's Kumail Nanjiani.

Replacing Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as leads in "Men in Black International" are "Thor: Ragnarok" co-stars Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth.

International is a serviceable summer diversion but no more than that. F. Gary Gray fills the director's chair vacated by Sonnenfeld (who is credited as executive producer). Gray's star rose on the critical and commercial success of his last two films, Straight Outta Compton and The Fate of the Furious.
He's qualified to helm such an undertaking, but he never finds an exciting new angle to breathe life into this (the way that Taika waititi did on the aforementioned Ragnarok). Nor does the writing duo of Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, who you'd have assumed would have a lot more than just two credits separating this screenplay from the original Iron Man (the ill-regarded Punisher: War Zone and Transformers: The Last Knight).

Hemsworth has grown into a fine comic talent, having been given the opportunity to go that route after the Shakespearean origins of Thor. He lands a few chuckles here, and Nanjiani a few more in voiceover, but the writing isn't sharp enough to consistently entertain or earn emotional investment. The most daring this gets is setting up a twist you only kind of see coming.

If asked to list what they liked most about Men in Black, fans would probably start with Smith and his amusing dynamic with Jones. Those are sorely missed here and so are the themes of contemplating our place in the universe. The "more of the same" approach is not the answer, as last week's universally tepid reaction to Dark Phoenix demonstrates. But it sure would have been nice if Gray, the writers, or the cast could have figured out something interesting or creative or just fun to do with this property. They do not, which leaves this a formulaic production with fleeting entertainment value. That won't matter if the box office numbers are good enough (see: Venom), but the first stretch of summer has found sequels that lack a non-financial reason to exist performing below expectations. The seven-year gap since MIB3 isn't enough to spark Jurassic World-type nostalgia and, without Smith, there isn't enough goodwill to make this a must-see on the big screen.

Related Reviews:
Men in Black Men in Black II Men in Black 3
Now in Theaters: Dark Phoenix Aladdin Toy Story 4 Rocketman The Secret Life of Pets 2 Late Night
Chris Hemsworth: Thor: Ragnarok Vacation (2015) Ghostbusters (2016) The Cabin in the Woods | Tessa Thompson: Creed Creed II
Kumail Nanjiani: The Big Sick
Directed by F. Gary Gray: Straight Outta Compton The Fate of the Furious | Written by Marcum and Holloway: Iron Man

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Reviewed June 13, 2019.

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