We are in an era where films are released on VOD mere months from their theatrical debut. It’s getting harder to get people to spend $10-$18 on a ticket. Yet even as diminishing returns continue studios keep banking on finding ways to make sequels, spin-offs, reboots, and soft reboots to their properties. To quote Rich Evans, “But it’s too profitable and they can’t leave this alone. They have to keep trying something and it’s going to be just the same things re-arranged.” This quote was in regards to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It shines a light on a bigger problem facing Hollywood. With all of that said, let’s discuss Men in Black and the latest film in the series MIB: International.
“You really think a black suit is going to solve all your problems?”
Released in 1997, Men in Black was loosely based off the Aircel Comics series (later bought out by Malibu Comics who was later bought out by Marvel Comics). So yeah, in a roundabout way Disney owns almost everything. Starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones and if you haven’t heard of it you were probably born in 1998. It grossed over $500 million and was a success with critics. This led to a sequel in 2002 that was completely forgettable. And in 2012 brought us a third film that was mildly amusing .
But when your two stars and director begin to waffle on whether or not they want to return you need to find a way to push forward. During the Sony hack, one of the best tidbits to leak was the idea of Men in Black and the 21 Jump Street film series crossing-over into a film tentatively titled MIB 23. Due to a lot of fighting between producers of both series about profit sharing the idea died. We instead go a sequel/spin-off starring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson hot off the success of Thor: Ragnarok.
“Let’s do this.”
20 years of searching for the Men in Black after an alien encounter in her childhood, Molly (Thompson) finds the United States headquarters and talks her way into being a probationary agent. Sent to the London office she’s teamed up with Agent H (Hemsworth) to uncover a mystery involving an evil alien race, a super weapon, and a mole in the MIB agency. Sounds like a lot of intriguing plot points ripe with possibilities in Men in Black: International. It’s a shame that these ideas didn’t get the chance to live up to their full potential. Too many times they treat us to an exposition dump to lead from one scene to the next. In fact, the entire plot of The Hive kind feels like an afterthought thrown in at the last minute to give a big villain to the plot.
Another letdown for me is the entire production design. In the past, we got some unique looking aliens. The worm guys from the first film were so interesting they became a staple for the series appearing in all the films, the animated series, and at the theme park ride. There is not a single alien who has a cool design that will be remembered after the credits roll. When you have a chance to go crazy imagining up weird creatures why not try to do more than characters that look like discarded Star Wars prequel designs?
“It’s gonna be fun. We’ll have fun with it.”
With the cast, we do have some redemption for Men in Black: International. As everyone has pointed out Hemsworth and Thompson are the highlights. The natural chemistry between the pair makes for some great moments where they elevate the clunky dialogue. Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, and Rafe Spall do the best with what little they’re given and it feels like material was cut for all of them. The big point of contention seems to be Kumail Nanjiani voicing Pawny, a tiny alien soldier. I personally think this all comes down to preference and I’ve never had a problem with him, so Pawny didn’t annoy me.
After all the behind the scenes issues that have come out recently, I can’t blame F. Gary Gray for the state of this film. It’s a shame that one producer couldn’t trust a filmmaker who has been working for over 20 years to put his own stamp on the series. In the end, this is a film that has a stack of talent that one person hinders. Talk about a letdown.
Overall Score 2/5