Back in 2012, many were shocked that Men In Black III existed and yet the filmmakers managed to improve on the second and bring the series to a surprisingly warm and fun close…or so we thought. Truth be told, Men In Black: International had a hard time convincing naysayers when it was announced that original stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones would not be returning, this unease was only strengthened when the first trailer hit and the film’s overall marketing felt under-powered. But could this new reboot/sequel find a story that is worth telling and set a new course for this series, based on Lowell Cunningham’s Malibu/Marvel comic? Sadly, lightening has not struck again.
The lack of the original stars is unavoidably felt in this film, which seems like a very distant cousin to the series as a result, but in Marvel studios’ Thor and Valkyrie, who reunite for this alien-filled adventure, we have a strong double act, even if this mighty pairing of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson still struggle to justify a fourth film in the franchise. Thompson makes for a good lead and is confident and cool as Molly/Agent M, while Hemsworth is a likeable lug as the capable but struggling Agent H. The two undoubtedly give things a great go but are not really given a strong enough story to work with as Agent M travels to UK branch of Men in Black to investigate a major problem within the agency.
Travelling overseas and seeing the established franchise tropes (celebrities-as-aliens gags, cameos and aliens-within-our-world scenes) play out is still fun but the mission itself is just not all that compelling. It doesn’t help that you can predict most steps in the journey (H’s old flame sub-plot and a link back to the opening scene, the bickering partners turned friends), while the big twist has been obvious since the first poster and trailer. Things start out well enough with a Molly flashback but as soon as she finds MIB headquarters, things kick rather too spontaneously and conveniently into gear, forgoing any training scenes or build up for a quick weapons montage and essentially Molly becoming an agent because she compliments Emma Thompson’s Agent O (very underused here) on her suit. While the villains are by far the weakest of the series.
Then there are the rather confusing themes, which admirably aim for stances on gender equality and empowerment but are very heavy handed in this regard, with some cringey jokes and a baffling forgetting of the MIB series’ past female characters (Linda Fiorentino’s Dr. Laurel Weaver, Lara Flynn Boyle’s Serleena, Rosario Dawson‘s Laura Vasquez and Emma Thompson herself).
Don’t get me wrong, F. Gary Gray’s film is not as terrible as many have said, in fact it is a rather easy watch, it’s just that the whole adventure does not really hang together. Passing points are rendered kind of unnecessary and some of the humour doesn’t really come off but there is enjoyment to be had (especially for younger viewers) and with behind the scenes troubles and constant rewrites during filming taken into account, things could have been a great deal worse (Fantastic Four anyone?).
Some of the alien designs are pretty neat (see: beard alien), as are a few of the sic-fi-infused settings (like the alien nightclub), while Danny Elfman and Chris Bacon’s score is pretty great, as it captures adventurous spirit, emotional depth and fun re-jazzed takes on the established franchise riffs. It’s just a shame the actual narrative cannot measure up to the audio.
As Toy Story 4 is in cinemas showing how to pull off a cracking fourth instalment in a seemingly wrapped up franchise, Men in Black: International sadly instead presents a watchable but inessential entry that fades from the memory pretty quickly.