Thor: Ragnarok co-stars Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth inject some real vitality into Men in Black: International, a fitfully fun blockbuster sequel that never breaks the mold but keeps things loose and appealing for the duration. The fourth MiB feature and first since 2012, this one comes closest to matching the wide-eyed creature feature original.
When they say International, they mean it: Men in Black 4 features extended scenes set in London, Paris, Marrakech, and an island off the coast of Naples, and while the intergalactic goings-on are limited to the Earth realm, there’s a lot of travelogue appeal to the globetrotting settings.
Men in Black: International starts off in New York City, however (after a brief cold open under the Eiffel Tower) to give us the background on Thompson’s Agent M. As a young girl named Molly, she encounters an alien – – and contrary to Men in Black protocol, she retains the memory after her parents are subjected to a neuralyzer.
Years later, she’s an enthusiastic alien-chaser who manages to locate the NYC Men in Black headquarters on her own – – and is soon after accepted into the ranks by an enthusiastic Agent O (Emma Thompson).
Introduced to the world of weird and wonderful alien creatures hidden behind MiB protocol, Agent M fills the kind of role memorably portrayed by Will Smith’s Agent J in the original film. And Thompson’s wide-eyed exuberance really sells the introduction to this strange and appealing world.
While the aliens, of course, are (mostly) CGI creations this time around – as opposed to some of the memorable Rick Baker creations in the original films – they’re all bright and engaging, and help keep this movie visually interesting when the pedestrian storyline fails to maintain interest.
On her first probationary assignment, Thompson’s Agent M is sent to the Men in Black London office, where director High T (Liam Neeson) and hot-shit Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) face a new crisis: the arrival of a murderous shape-shifting alien race out to assassinate a travelling galactic royal, and a potential mole the in MiB.
Men in Black: International offers nothing new in the story department – the earlier movies even covered plot dangerously close to what occurs here – and climactic revelations, and how they relate to character motivation, don’t even seem to make much sense.
But keeping Men in Black: International afloat, in addition to the colorful effects, globetrotting locals, and all-around first-rate production design – are two colorful central performances from Thompson and Hemsworth, who help breathe some fresh life into the franchise.
The duo previously made for an appealing superhero team in Thor: Ragnarok, but get a bigger chance to strut their charismatic rapport here – and share some real-deal chemistry, though the film only lightly hints at romantic potential.
Make no mistake, however – this is Thompson’s movie, despite advertising that promotes this as an ensemble effort, and she easily walks away with it. While no stranger to the blockbuster realm, Thompson showcases some genuine movie-star appeal here, and effortlessly fills the void left by Will Smith.
Hemsworth has played this kind of role before, but there’s some surprising depth to his vaguely airheaded ace who has been handed it all – and, perhaps, a subplot or two on the cutting room floor (why and how has he “changed”, as one character posits early in the movie?)
Neeson and Emma Thompson, meanwhile, offer more solid support than most movies of this caliber get to boast; so does Rafe Spall, for that matter, as an MiB nerd. Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) shows up as a four-armed alien, while Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) voices a palm-sized creature that takes to Agent M – and offers up plenty comedic support.
Men in Black: International may not break any new ground, but it does put a fresh spin on a stale franchise; after recent blockbuster flops like X-Men: Dark Phoenix and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, maybe that’s the best we can hope for apart from the success of the Marvel machine.
After two lackluster sequels with original cast members Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, it’s this departure, ironically, that comes closest to capturing the feel of the 1997 original and Malibu comic book upon which it was based. While Smith and Jones are entirely absent from this movie, which may be to the chagrin of some fans, they are briefly referenced in a painting lauding their exploits.