“Men in Black” is one of the most cherished science fiction movies of the 1990s and a lasting source of nostalgia for people like me who grew up in that decade. The idea of its titular organization existing in real life is a longstanding conspiracy theory that gained incredible popularity thanks to the original film. The sequels, however, have not been as cherished with “Men in Black II” becoming a somewhat infamous sequel and “Men in Black 3” all but forgotten with time. In an attempt to breath new life into the franchise and apparently continue Hollywood’s obsession with revitalizing what worked once before rather than coming up with any new ideas, Sony decided to bring a new film to the big screen with a new cast. Thus “Men in Black: International” was born utilizing the talents of “Straight Outta Compton” director F. Gary Gray and “Thor” series duo Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson to target a new generation of moviegoers and pave the way for a new future for the franchise. Does this reboot/spin-off offer anything new or fun to prove this series is still worth investing in? Let’s take a look. This is my review of “Men in Black: International”.
“Men in Black: International”, which I will call “MiB4” for a lot of this review, is once again based on the Malibu and Marvel comic series “Men in Black” and focuses on a young woman named Molly (Tessa Thompson) who has become obsessed with joining the Men in Black after meeting an alien at a young age. She manages to infiltrate the organization and is recruited to join, taking the alias M. She partners with one of MIB’s most famous agents, Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) to interrogate an alien friend of H’s who has been connected to a series of mysterious alien attacks. During the interrogation, the two are given a secret, highly destructive weapon for safekeeping. When their subject is attacked by a pair of shapeshifting twin aliens (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) Agents M and H discover that there may be a mole inside MIB helping coordinate the attacks. With the help of High T (Liam Neeson), the UK branch leader of the MIB, the agents uncover a larger conspiracy that could threaten the fate of the organization and the planet.
So I’ll admit I have a soft spot for this series. The original “Men in Black” is an incredible source of nostalgia for me and in my opinion one of the most enjoyable and smart science fiction comedies of the last two decades. I even enjoyed the second film for what it was and the third movie I could take or leave. But this film…this film doesn’t really do anything of note to add to the legacy of this franchise at all. “MiB4” has a few things going for it, but for the most part it turned out to be a pretty bland attempt at continuing to cash in on a franchise well beyond its heyday. I actually wanted to like this movie. Science fiction, aliens, and a promising duo headlining the project…what could go wrong? A lot apparently. While it always felt like Sony desperately trying to keep a franchise afloat I will admit there was a lot of promise. But it’s all pretty well wasted on a script and screenplay that not only plays it remarkably safe but results in one of the most forgettable sequels of the last few years.
A huge marketing point for “MiB4” was the starring duo of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson thanks to their experience together in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They showed great chemistry in “Thor: Ragnarok” and they continue to embrace that chemistry here working off each other well especially considering their characters couldn’t be more different. It’s not all perfect though. While Hemsworth and Thompson work very well together and bring some life to this dull sequel both suffer from a lack of quality direction or material to work with. The result is different for each of the two actors. Thompson’s character has so little of her story explored beyond a flashback that Thompson has to try especially hard to make M anywhere close to memorable and even with her talent she just can’t pull it off. On the other end, we all know Chris Hemsworth has a talent for comedy as he showed in the MCU and even served as one of the few true highlights of the “Ghostbusters” reboot. He does bring his comedic A-game to this movie as well but it almost feels like he tries too hard. Agent H is incredibly unlikable because he’s presented as the cliched reckless officer who does whatever he wants but people just look the other way because he’s so cool. He’s given very little development to justify or explore his arrogance so as much as Hemsworth genuinely tries to turn out a charming performance he can’t overpower the lack of character development to give us anyone worth cheering for.
One performer that does shine in the film is Kumail Nanjiani as Pawney, an alien to works with Agents M and H after he embraces M as his new queen to serve. Nanjiani also suffers from a lack of proper development for his character and honestly Pawney’s inclusion feels shoehorned in for the sake of having a comic relief sidekick character, but of all the performers in this film, many of them much bigger names, Nanjiani is the only one who succeeds in overpowering the flaws in the script and screenplay to create a lovable and memorable character we can enjoy. He’s funny and steals almost every scene he’s in. While I initially had problems with how the character was introduced and so randomly worked into the plot, I didn’t really care by the end of it because he ended up adding so much charm to an otherwise basic movie.
To “MiB4’s” credit there are some fun ideas and character designs that do embrace the atmosphere and world explored in previous movies. A lot of the aliens are imaginatively designed and while the CGI effects are pretty obvious there are still some neat visual concepts especially with the tragically underutilized twins that serve as the primary villains throughout most of the film. I’ll also give the film credit for at least keeping my attention, if barely, throughout the experience. “MiB4” at its best serves as a harmless waste of time for two hours. But really that’s all it is. “MiB4” offers little to nothing special to help push the franchise in any new direction and is bogged down by numerous barely explored subplots, unnecessary side quests that have little to no impact on the story, a cliché and predictable plot with and a twist I foresaw within the first fifteen minutes of the feature, an overwhelming urgency to be him and with the times which in turn makes it immediately dated, and an severe lack of inspiration. It just feels like a misfire on almost every level and, being a spin-off, reboot and indirect sequel, commits the unforgivable sin of doing almost nothing to establish itself as a standout entry in its own franchise or really justify its existence in any way. Many of its best moments are actually callbacks to the previous films and if I wanted to see that I’d WATCH the previous films. It’s the same concepts, comedy and lazy storytelling we’ve seen many times before from studio after studio trying to squeeze whatever they can out of a series but playing it so safe that it makes you wonder why we needed this film in the first place.
Before I conclude I want to do something I don’t normally resort to by comparing this film to another movie released last week because I think there’s a point to be made here. For the second weekend in a row we have a bland comic book sequel that fails to shine, but when comparing “MiB4” to “Dark Phoenix” I’d honestly take the later. I think “MiB4” is a more true and deserving example of the criticism that people have placed upon “Dark Phoenix” in the last two weeks. Many have called the final Fox “X-Men” movie the worst in the series because it feels pointless and doesn’t really do anything to truly progress the franchise. I disagree in a lot of ways, but I feel that criticism perfectly describes “MiB4”. While “Dark Phoenix” for me was still not a good movie I gave it a middle of the road score because I at least found it entertaining and even over a week later I can still remember a lot of things I kind of enjoyed about it and I still find myself defending the movie for the few aspects that really stood out to me. Not even 24 hours after watching “MiB4” I’ve already forgotten most of what I might have enjoyed about it and find myself struggling to defend it. I think it’s fascinating that in two consecutive weeks we have received two comic book movies and sequels, not to mention fourth entries in a respective line of films, that serves as sad evidence of Hollywood’s tendency to phone in franchise ad-ons and show just how bland these sequels can be without the effort put in to make them worth the time.
So, it should shock no one that my thoughts on “Men in Black: International” aren’t very positive. I do acknowledge it for being mildly entertaining as a simple waste of time, but otherwise, there’s little value here. It’s not a worthy “Men in Black” movie by any standard. It’s a bland and forgettable story with too many subplots that go nowhere, very little proper character development, and a lazy and simple script that does an injustice to the talent and effort most of its cast bring to the table. There are a few small aspects that shine but not nearly enough to help lift it above mediocrity. This is a prime example of the result of a studio trying to keep a franchise alive without having enough reason or inspiration to even try. It’s still really cool and fun to see Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth revisit their “Thor” chemistry and some of the designs and visuals are cool but overall it’s just a plain forgettable movie. I can’t say I didn’t have some fun with it, but in a few weeks I’ll forget I even saw it. As a spinoff, sequel or reboot of a series like “Men in Black” you just have to try a lot harder than this to offer something worth the time.