Fri, 28 Jun 2019
Men in Black: International (12A)
Running time 1h 54min
THERE’S a Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones-shaped hole at the centre of this new Men in Black film and the project was only going to suffer for it. The original MiB movie was part of an aborted late-90s paranoid sci-fi wave dominated by crummy novel adaptations and even crummier action-hero vehicles; it’s very much stood the test of time, however, and that’s largely down to the infectious interplay between its leads. In typical reboot fashion, wisecracking Smith and spacey Jones get their counterparts here in Tessa Thompson’s rookie and Chris Hemsworth’s veteran extraterrestrial investigator, but there’s a
fundamental problem – they’re both vaguely competent solo acts, as opposed to a compelling two-piece package. That niggle is but the first nail in the film’s coffin.
Rather than setting out to directly replicate MiB’s magic, International endeavours to Marvelise the franchise, to broaden its thematic and geographical scope. This is a process which was begun, to a certain extent, with 2012’s MiB 3 – a rollicking time travel jaunt which transported Agents K and D back to the 1960s, but International makes good on its title in moving the action overseas. Paris, London and Marrakech all get screen time and the film certainly inherits the madcap pacing of previous entries, bouncing effortlessly between locales. It follows series newcomers Agents H (Hemsworth) and M (Thompson) as they seek out the thieves of an extraterrestrial superweapon; it’s a real Rent-A-Plot, but that doesn’t necessarily doom an aspirant blockbuster (if recent smash-hits are anything to go by). As ever, Hemsworth is a reliably goofy frontman, and Thompson’s heroine has her engaging moments, even if the character feels chronically underdeveloped.
No, where the movie truly falls down is in its utter inability to live up to the promise of previous installments. MiB’s aliens were genuinelyunforgettable, animated by a sliminess and grotesquerie that we otherwise see little of in sci-fi cinema; it’s disappointing, therefore, to find International’s world populated by dull CG monstrosities. The comic vigour of Smith and Jones ensured that these films always struck a note between broad humour and urban fantasy grit; in the absence of this central mechanic, International plays out like a supernatural Mission: Impossible adventure, too airy and polite for its own good. Even the inclusion of Liam Neeson’s stern senior agent fails to raise the tone beyond that of dawdling farce. To make matters worse, there are countless attempts to systemise the MiB universe, to condense a franchise known for its ‘anything-can-happen’ appeal into something more compact and tangible – to this end, we get a clumsy sequence in which the plucky M is inducted into the Agency. It’s an approach that’s distinctly at odds with International’s happy-go-lucky tenor.
A new Black outing has been teased for the best part of nearly a decade, with the rumour mill churning out some downright outlandish ideas along the way (a Jump Street crossover was once in the works). It is with a heavy heart that this critic reports the final film to be a whole lot less fun than the waiting game. While International is not, therefore, without its entertaining flourishes, it’s by far the least consistent of the MiB films, lacking the spark and chutzpah of its predecessors.