Men In Black was a genuine mid-to-late nineties phenomenon, released at that transitory time between VHS and DVD. Agents J and K returned twice more over the following fifteen years, with somewhat diminishing returns. People don’t like to admit it, but a way to refresh a franchise without rebooting it is to shift character focus and location. Cue Men In Black: International, a European alien adventure featuring two fan favourite Marvel actors, and a different perspective on intergalactic relations. Men In Black: International should be funnier than it is, but it does not have any of the bloat that one might expect from a 22 year old franchise.
Molly (Tessa Thompson, Little Woods) has been obsessed with the existence of aliens since she witnessed an incursion as a child. She infiltrates the Men In Black and, after impressing New York branch leader O (Emma Thompson, Missing Link), she is assigned to the London office. She shadows hotshot “vaguely inept” Agent H (Chris Hemsworth, Avengers: Endgame) as they deal with the sinister alien Twins (French polymaths Les Twins), under the guidance of High T (Liam Neeson, Cold Pursuit).
The tone is set for Men In Black: International by framing it around the Molly character. It’s not just that she’s an initiate character, but an alien devotee with a wide eyed mania for the subject. Once she gets the life she wants, however, the script seems to lose some of her curiosity and almost flattens it out. Molly remains the focus point, but she becomes more of a narrative conduit than the multifaceted character she begins as. This is Thompson’s third film with Hemsworth, and the two have a natural rapport. They need more jokes between them, but they do well with what they have.
The team of Matt Holloway and Art Marcum (Transformers: The Last Knight) have created a more than workable script, featuring a logical story that doesn’t belabour the novelty of a world filled with aliens (and does not feature anything that could conceivably bite it in retrospect, like a Michael Jackson cameo). There are few surprises, because any film with Liam Neeson in it has to meet certain quotas, but a star turn by a three armed Rebecca Ferguson (The Kid Who Would Be King) with career-best bizarre hair delights, and Kumail Nanjiani (TV’s Silicon Valley) is surprisingly not irritating as the team’s mascot, a pocket sized alien.
F. Gary Gray (The Fate of the Furious) is by now used to directing large scale action films; at $110 million, Men in Black International is practically austere. The special effects hold up for the most part, although there is at least one group scene filled with slightly awkwardly dressed extras, and all of the action is communicated logically. Like the Furious series, and living up to its title, the film jumps across multiple locations, all shot handsomely. There are no huge logistical set pieces, and the climax is practically demure, but Gray handles the whole thing with aplomb and is greatly assisted by actors who have spent at least part of the last decade working extensively with green screen.
Men in Black: International isn’t much more than a relatively well-made sci-fi action movie, but it is better than it really has any right to be. There are definitely areas in which it needed to be punched up, but the tried and tested partnership of Thompson and Hemsworth carries it through to the end.
Men In Black International opened in Australian cinemas on June 13, 2019.
Directed by: F. Gary Gray.
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Nanjiani, Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson.