Courtesy of Sony
Here comes the Men In Black, but these aren’t the ones you remember. The F Gary Grey (“Straight Outta Compton”) reboot/spin-off/sequel “Men In Black: International” has decided to take the franchise in a new and somewhat engaging direction. The latest iteration has chosen to omit the beloved Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in favor of “Thor: Ragnarok” co-stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, and if not for their remarkable chemistry and can-do-it attitude, let’s just say “MIB: International” could’ve been another easily forgettable summer wack job.
Based on the popular Malibu Comics series, Barry Sonnenfield’s original 1997 “Men In Black” was one of the most unexpected blockbusters of the 1990s. A fun comedy about a top-secret government agency whose sole purpose was to track down extraterrestrial lifeforms shook the world and gave us the genius pairing of Smith and Jones. The consequential and money grab follow-ups never lived up by comparison, but there was something about the two actors who made them work regardless (and Josh Brolin certainly stood out in the third chapter). And so it goes in Hollywood, we can’t let any franchise sit for too long - and since “Men In Black III” ended the series on a satisfying note, “International” is here to take things in a new and slightly progressive direction.
That it does with the team-up of Thompson and Hemsworth and like Smith and Jones they live up to the task, finding the humor in an otherwise mediocre and by-the-numbers script which strategically moves the action from New York City to Paris and eventually London. You’ll notice it’s Hemsworth/Thompson multimillion dollar charm that drives most of the empty plot, as we see the “Avengers: Endgame” co-stars trying to set aside their conflicting personalities in order to locate a mysterious alien weapon which could threaten the universe.
However before we get there we meet Thompson as Molly, who - at one point in time - was an ambitious little girl obsessed with the Men In Black after she witnessed them erasing her parents memories following a brief alien encounter. She’s spent her entire life trying to find MIB. Not to expose them, but to enlist. After she outwits Agent O (Emma Thompson), Molly gets hired on a probationary basis and gets stationed in England with a new identity: Agent M.
Her new partner is H (Hemsworth) - a legend within the branch for saving the world a few years back and he’s been riding that wave of success ever since. Now he’s basically a frat boy with no wits about him, uses violence to solve every situation, and his once promising leadership skills are dwindling by the day. But he’s a party animal and when the two are dispatched to court an alien dignitary, he knows exactly what to do.
It’s not long before total chaos ensues and the party ends sooner than expected, and when the alien that M and H were supposed to protect gets killed, he gives them a mysterious puzzle box with a cryptic message pointing to a mole within the MIB monarchy. Before you can put on your slick black sunglasses, the two are thrown on a globetrotting super-sci-fi adventure to figure out whose compromised the organization (don’t worry you’ll probably figure it out long before the rushed and timid conclusion tells you).
But with Hemsworth playing - more or less - the James Bond of MIB, with his dapper and charming take-no-prisoners policy - it’s the perfect contrast to Thompson’s brainy analyst who is always one step ahead of her foes. Don’t go looking for much character development beyond that, because aside from brief spurts about their past life, “International” keeps the action sequences coming at a constant and steady rate in one attractive locale after another. Credit needs to be bestowed upon Charles Wood’s nostalgic production design and director of photography Stuart Dryburgh for giving the film a matinee spy caper aesthetic. And a shout out is necessary for composer Chris Bacon who manages to give Danny Elfman’s original score a pulpy infused update. In the slums of the films downturns - and there are many - this creative team makes some of it worth the hike.
At least Matt Holloway and Art Marcum’s script takes the liberty of exploring new characters and alien species as well. The standout being Kumail Nanjiani’s voice work as Pawny, a rare alien breed whose queen is murdered by antagonists with no real conviction, who is basically this iterations version of Frank the pug, and Nanjiani’s vocal chops give “International” an extra dose of much needed energy. Others - like a four armed Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission: Impossible - Fallout”) with approximately two seconds of screen time - aren’t so fascinating and serve no real purpose.
But hey throw in Liam Neeson as the raspy head of the MIB London division and, well, you’ve got yourself a wannabe blockbuster. None of those characters hardly do anything to move the needle in terms of what Marcum and Holloway are trying to put on the screen. They try to dress the film with slick gadgets and gizmos in an effort to distract from the lazy script-writing, which is cool and all if you know to use them. But make no mistake, the best weapon “International” has at its disposal are Hemsworth and Thompson who are far more interesting to watch than anything their characters are doing in the film.