One of the most frustrating feelings, when watching a movie, is seeing a great deal of effort put into a film that leaves you cold. Men In Black: International is one of those films. So glossy and luxuriously produced, with a committed cast, but leaving one with so many empty calories. There are untold amounts of money on screen, but unfortunately I can’t imagine the film will leave viewers with any lasting feelings.
The film, an attempted reboot by Sony (whose list of bankable IP seems to be dwindling by the year), looks to push the series past the days of Will Smith’s expressive charisma and the stern deadpan of Tommy Lee Jones. In their place are Tessa Thompson as Molly and Chris Hemsworth as Agent H, agents of the secret extraterrestrial-fighting organization Men in Black.
H is the veteran, Ace agent who’s possibly in line to be the director of MiB. While Molly, later named Agent M, has been christened as a member of the organization after completing a lifelong mission to find the elusive group. Her parents’ memories were zapped, after an encounter with an alien, by the MiB but she avoided the same fate. Obsessed with aliens her whole life, she finally tracks the MIB down and impresses Agent O (Emma Thompson) enough to land her dream job. I do find it a bit silly that this extremely secretive government body hasn’t done their due diligence to avoid discovery via GPS, but I digress.
M meets the head of MiB, High T (Liam Neeson). You get the feeling that his name is supposed to be funny… because testerone is funny? Or an older guy having that name is funny? Or the character is supposed to be really masculine, but that doesn’t make sense because this wouldn’t make the top 10 of Neeson’s most masculine roles? Beats the hell out of me, but High T ends up pairing M with H. Their adventures lead them to protect a crystalized macguffin from the Hive, a group of generic alien adversaries (isn’t this the series famous for Rick Baker’s creature designs?). The one thing the Hive have going for them is some admittedly cool powers, but don’t count on the film providing any enthralling set pieces to showcase said powers.
But the worst of Men In Black: International is not it’s lack of imaginative action, but it’s strange plotting. While the marketing has been focused on Tessa Thompson’s point of view, the plot really focuses on Chris Hemsworth as Agent H tries to unravel mysterious events from his past that may explain his uncharacteristic behavior. This leads us to follow M and H from one location to another, but all an audience can muster is apathy because we have no reason to be invested in this story. This is partially due to some erratic editing in the first half of the film as we jump back and worth between M and H’s stories without devoting enough time to truly enrich either character’s arc. Then, when their stories eventually converge, the film is mired by macguffins and aliens we don’t care about, as well as twists and turns that are as expected as they are flat. Juxtapose this with how efficiently the 1997 film layed out it’s plot, and it’s night and day. In that film, there was a fair amount of empathy built up for key aliens in the story, allowing us to actually give a damn about the macguffin (Orion’s Belt).
What fails the new film is really a poor screenplay. This extends beyond the mechanics of the plot and into the dialogue. Men In Black is intended to be an action-comedy, but it’s just not funny. The original 1997 film excelled based on a blend of slapstick humor and wry comedic dialogue. International doesn’t even attempt the former, and falls flat on it’s face doing the latter. Some scenes in particular, such as when Molly’s parents discuss the alien that is in their house, feel like the lousiest SNL sketches you can think of. You know, the ones that were this close to being cut from the broadcast, but somehow ended up being the last sketch before the cast takes a bow. This has left the film in a state of mediocrity. The humor lacks wit (the jokes are all predictable and wouldn’t feel out of place on a bad Nickelodeon show), while the action lacks excitement and possesses no dramatic tension whatsoever. Ultimately, this is the type of film destined to end up played on TNT or FX as background noise on a random Saturday in a couple of years.
It’s quite a shame, really, as Men In Black is a property ripe with potentially great ideas. Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are too talented to receive such boring material. But instead of progressing the series, and genre, forward we’re left with another attempt to recapture the magic of the original. The original worked as a buddy cop movie but with aliens. Combine that with the popularity of the traditional sitcom at the time, and Men In Black was the right genre-bending blockbuster at the right time. But the moment has passed, it’s time to move on and innovate. Either this franchise will have to, at some point, adapt to a changing media landscape or Sony will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to come up with some new ideas. As for this entry, there’s no neuralyzer necessary – you won’t remember it a week from now anyway.