Review: Men in Black: International
Men in Black premiered more than 20 years ago, starring a young Will Smith and an eternally not-so-young Tommy Lee Jones. It’s a good film, now imbued with a major sense of nostalgia that probably keeps us from looking at it too critically. But, the franchise is not perfect. Its two sequels were not major successes and a soft reboot of the series with new characters in the same world wasn’t considered a bad idea at all. Especially when you bring on two major actors like Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, who have a proven chemistry and great track record respectively.
Tessa and Chris are great in this. They hold up the entire film on their shoulders. Thompson’s Agent M could have easily just been this generation’s gender-bent Agent J, but she is a completely new character. Obsessed with the men in black she saw as a child, Molly spends her whole life trying to track them down to become one of them. Meanwhile, Agent H (Hemsworth) has been a senior agent for some time and is reckless and arrogant from his past experiences. Both actors’ comedic timing is spot on, especially Tessa, who naturally exudes rookie Agent M’s winging-it attitude and talent for her new job. The film embraces M’s excitement for the world she has worked so hard to finally join. Though, it leaves out her training as an Agent, which were some of the best scenes in the original film.
The film’s sidekick (or pawn, I guess) played by Kumail Nanjiani, Pawny, is little more than joke-fodder for the film. Most of his lines landed for the audience, but they are thrown in rather awkwardly, as is the character himself. The CGI character’s small stature means that he’s forgotten from most scenes, hidden in a pocket, and added in like an after-thought once the action ends. Many viewers will find him annoying and I can’t blame them. He does have a handful of great lines, but Kumail deserves better.
Emma Thompson also deserved a bigger role. Thompson, playing Agent O, is not featured too heavily, but her scenes show her supportive but strict mentor role for Agent M, with a few comedic beats. Their best scene together features Agent M asking O why the organization is still called “Men” in Black, only to have Agent O respond with an exasperated, “don’t get started” as she has been down that road many times. And then there’s Liam Neeson’s High T, the mentor who mostly coddles Hemsworth’s Agent H at the London branch. Liam plays a pretty straight-forward high-level Agent and his performance is not too noteworthy, despite the mystery behind his motives. At this point though, Liam can show up in most blockbuster films and do well on name alone.
Let’s talk about Men in Black: International’s villain problem. Without spoilers, the film’s casting of Les Twins, twin dancers from France that were recently featured on Beyonce’s Homecoming documentary, as the mysterious villains is... cringey. Sometimes a studio executive watches an episode of World of Dance and says, “Those guys are hip and cool. Let’s feature them prominently in a blockbuster movie but don’t make them act too much” and you can tell. They end up being mostly wasted and all you remember is their awkward dance scene at the alien-friendly club. It all felt like something out of the late 90s and detracted from a fairly serious scene that was supposed to build tension for the audience.
Overall, Men in Black: International’s villain arc is predictable, yes, with many people guessing off the bat how it would all go down just from the trailers. Despite that, I wasn’t bothered by the reveal and the final “battle” was interesting and finished off the film effectively. Sticking the landing is rare these days for most blockbusters. Yet, Men in Black holds back from setting themselves up for a sequel, which is even rarer.
What should we expect from a Men in Black film? The franchise has never been more than blockbuster fun, featuring weird alien designs and big plasma guns. Putting nostalgia aside, Men in Black: International is a solid entry into the franchise and faithfully continues the secret history of the Men in Black and the aliens existing among us.