MIB: International (2019)
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writers: Matt Holloway, Art Marcum, Lowell Cunningham
Starring: Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Rafe Spall, Rebecca Ferguson, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois, Kumail Nanjiani
Twenty-two years after Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers' comic-book series was adapted into the fantastic sci-fi adventure that was Men In Black, the franchise returns with its third sequel, and its first entry not to include the iconic Agents J and K (played by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, respectively... as if you didn't know already). Instead, MIB: International introduces new Agents M and H, and with them brings an adventure set largely on an entirely new continent. The Men in Black indeed go international, extending the now well-established world beyond the shores of the United States and exploring the British branch of MIB.
It was brave decision to try and produce a new MIB film without the magic brought by Smith and Jones, a partnership which happily earned two follow-ups to the original 1997 hit. It is a trilogy which is almost universally highly regarded, and so recapturing the same winning formula with a new cast in a new setting was always going to be a challenge. With that in mind, Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson do present as a logical and safe casting choice; after showcasing their winning chemistry and shared comedic prowess in Thor: Ragnarok (2017) it was likely felt that, with them at the film's helm, MIB: International would surely follow in the successful footsteps of its predecessors.
Sadly, it seems that a little too much faith may have been put into the star power of the two leads, and too much reliance on this has been at the expense of the other elements. At its core, MIB: International is a serviceable buddy-cop action comedy, but one which is pretty much indistinguishable from the many other buddy-cop action comedies which are frequently released, aside from the inclusion of a few very realistic but largely irrelevant CGI aliens; the film's main antagonist, played by twins Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, is particularly bland and is unlikely to leave a lasting impression, while Kumail Nanjiani's Pawny serves as little more than a cute sidekick who spouts occasionally funny quips at Agent H.
Past MIB films were similar in their composition, involving two skilled agents with opposing approaches to their work investigating a plot to destroy all life on Earth. But each of the past entries, 1 and 2 especially, fundamentally possessed a quality which excelled them beyond the buddy-cop sub-genre. Men In Black was a detective story, with a distinct noir overtone and mystery running right through the story-line. International is simply devoid of this quality, and so any connection between this fourth entry and the original trilogy stops at the title.
Tessa Thompson gives a brilliantly confident performance as Agent M who, spurred on by the early deneuralisation of her parents, tries to locate the strange organisation which is responsible. Her portrayal as the headstrong and capable M is of the sassy calibre we now expect from Thompson, and is fun to watch throughout, but some aspects of her character do feel significantly rushed. Her willingness to sign up has a shaky justification at best, and the speed at which she both acquires and perfects her many skills does feel rather unearned. Arguably, this is helpful in accelerating the plot towards its dominant story-line, but, as we saw in '97, a character's introduction to MIB is also an opportunity for the audience to experience new aliens, new technology, and is a ideal time to further build on the world which we are now familiar with. International declines to take this opportunity, so not only does Agent M become competent remarkably quickly, we are also not given enough time to orientate to the new world in which we find ourselves.
Hemsworth's Agent H is handled even more oddly, with him presenting as obnoxious and reckless throughout the majority of the film, with very little explanation as to why this is. It's not without purpose, which eventually becomes clear, but this doesn't prevent his abrasive and often downright moronic character becoming increasingly frustrating as the film goes on. Several other characters harken back to his more sensible days, but as we are not graced with this frame of reference it is difficult to see past the persona we are supplied with, which only serves to make the resolution of his character's arc all the more baffling.
To their credit, Thompson and Hemsworth do deliver on their remarkable chemistry, with the film's best moments often being the scenes they share. Their back-and-forth - sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching - continues to feel completely organic and, while the film delivers little in terms of mystery or interesting extra-terrestrials, it is hard not to enjoy its buddy-cop movie aspects.
In one line: Despite providing an energetic adventure and a likable partnership, MIB: International struggles to build on the fundamental components of the franchise that bore it, offering little else that we haven't seen already or care to see again.