Movie Review: “Men in Black: International”

A movie can succeed in any number of ways.  There are movies that succeed with their plot.  There are movies that succeed with their visuals. There are movies that succeed with their characters.  There are movies that succeed with the chemistry of their cast.  The list goes on.  For a movie to be truly great however, it needs to succeed in each and every way.  Every separate piece needs to work and then to come together to make an even better whole.

The fourth entry in the Men in Black franchise, “Men in Black:  International,” is not a great movie.  It does not succeed on every level.  That said, the reunion of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson makes the adventure enjoyable enough to satisfy.

Yes, gone are Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, the leads of the original “Men in Black” more than 20 years ago.  They are replaced by Hemsworth and Thompson as Agent H and Agent M, respectively, and the two are on a mission to save the world from… something.  The specifics of it all are meant to be surprising on some level, but the script from Art Marcum & Matt Holloway (or at least the parts of it that are in the final cut of the movie) feels less interested in the exact nature of what is taking place and why, and much more interested in the ability of Hemsworth, Thompson, and Kumail Nanjiani (who plays an alien chess pawn piece, Pawny) to make people laugh.

This is not an entirely successful endeavor.  There are very few big laughs in the film.  What the audience does get is a number of smaller chuckles and enough enthusiasm on the part of Hemsworth, Thompson, and Nanjiani to make it good enough to see the thing through.

This reviewer is, of course, damning the whole thing with faint praise, but here’s the thing – one can’t help but watch the movie and see just how sloppy some parts of it are. There are clearly bits of explanation left on the cutting room floor.  There are moments that are telegraphed at the beginning of the movie that the audience has to wait an exceptionally long time to come back around, and then watch as all the characters act surprised by them.  Of course, the characters are surprised, but the audience has known to expect them, and has been expecting them for a while; it makes the reveals are worse than mundane.  The truth is that even Hemsworth’s handsome moron shtick, the one that we’ve all seen before, grows rather tiresome here.

And then there are the visual effects.  Some of them are truly fantastic, such as the depiction of a couple of bad guy aliens or an insanely fast subway train.  Some them though are distinctly disappointing, like an alien-tech driven motorbike.  Moments with Agent H on the bike don’t simply look fake, they look dreadfully fake.  This all adds to the generally sloppy feel of the endeavor.

But, when H and M and Pawny are moving from place to place and trying to work out everything the audience already knows, it’s fun enough.  It’s enjoyable enough.  It’s clever enough.  One still wonders why Emma Thompson’s Agent O isn’t around more (one of the few holdover characters from an earlier film in the franchise), why the Rafe Spall’s Agent C can’t be a bigger part of things, who thought calling Liam Neeson’s character “Agent High T” would be funny, and why Rebecca Ferguson is so underutilized, but as long as the leads are moving, it whizzes by faster than the ray from a Series 7 Deatomizer.

While some of the entries in this franchise have felt tired upon release, “Men in Black: International” doesn’t.  Yes, parts of it are tiresome, but it doesn’t feel tired.  It feels, even in its slow moments, rather joyful and peppy.  It is almost infectious in that way.

F. Gary Gray may not have directed the best entry in the franchise, but with this movie he may have found a way to keep it moving forward, to show that there are more stories to tell even if they’re not with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. This movie then is more of a promise than a success, but it’s enough.

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photo credit: Sony Pictures

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