WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
After finding her way into the Men in Black, new recruit Agent M teams up with the roguish Agent H on the seemingly simple assignment of showing an alien VIP a good time before he leaves Earth the next day. When things go horribly wrong, M believes that a mole in the MIB organization betrayed them but can she prove it before a new enemy threatens Earth’s human and alien populations alike. And, worse, can that mole be her new partner, H?
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Between the fact that both Men in Black sequels were, at the very least, disappointments after the fresh, funny and inventive original film took the world by storm and helped solidify Will Smith as one of the era’s definitive leading men, and that news of this new sequel/relaunch was met with the deafening sound of millions of moviegoers shrugging their shoulders in utter disinterest, I went into Men in Black: International with extremely low expectations.
This despite my being a huge Chris Hemsworth fan (I should hate the fact that no one that good looking and fantastically charming has any business being so goddamn funny, but I’m reasonably sure it’s physically impossible to hate the guy) and looking forward to seeing him once again teaming up with the always impressive Tessa Thompson mere weeks after showing off their real chemistry in Avengers: Endgame. This also despite the fact that I absolutely loved the first Men in Black and still think there’s loads of potential in the franchise even if the sequels did everything they could to dissuade me of that notion. Still, I had low hopes for Men in Black: International and the overwhelmingly negative reviews that started pouring in late Wednesday afternoon only seemed to confirm my doubts.
So, yes, maybe it is just that I went in expecting the worst, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t genuinely enjoy the film. Sure, it’s massively throwaway and forgettable and, yes, it has some very glaring problems that stop it from ever coming close to capturing the magic of the original film, but there is still something irresistible about its unassuming mix of spy flick, science fiction and light comedy. It’s also the first Man in Black sequel to not just feel like a massively inferior redo of the original as it shifts the emphasis from the quirky sci-fi of Barry Sonnefeld’s increasingly misjudged trilogy towards breezy globe-trotting adventure that plays out like one of the more lighthearted Bond films, just, ya know, with aliens.
This does make it a strange one to review as it’s actually way easier to point out all the things that are wrong about the film than what it gets right. It’s impossible not to notice, for example, that the script, written by Matt Holloway and Art Marcum (the team that are somehow responsible for both the original Iron Man films and the latest and hopefully last Michael Bay Transformers film, The Last Knight) never really provide enough laughs for something that is ostensibly a comedy and therefore criminally waste Chris Hemsworth’s significant comedic skills in the process.
Nor can anyone entirely overlook just how laughably predictable the film’s major "twists" are or how the film needs to spell everything out in a way that is frankly more than a little insulting. And, sure enough, director F Gary Gray (just off the unlikely one-two punch of Straight Outta Compton and Fast & Furious 8) does an adequate job of capturing the film’s charming willingness to guilelessly pilfer from a varied and often better selection of genre pictures, but there’s little here that truly wows.
For all of this, though, and maybe actually because of this, I was thoroughly entertained by the movie throughout its reasonably brief running time. Yes, part of this undoubtedly has to do with the fantastic cast – both in lead and supporting roles – but it also has a lot to do with the film’s complete lack of pretentiousness. It knows exactly what it is more than happy to deliver exactly that. Not a drop more but mostly not a drop less either.
It relies heavily on the charisma of its leads to do a lot of the heavy lifting, but it’s not like they’re not up to the challenge. It relegates many of its actual jokes to Kumail Nanjiani’s scene-stealing Pawny, a pocket-sized alien that should be irritating but thanks purely to Nanjiani’s dejected-sounding delivery somehow isn’t. It knows its characters are pretty shallow, but when you have actors like Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson, Rafe Spall and Emma Thompson, it doesn’t really matter. Especially not when it looks like they’re having a total blast just being there.
All of this adds up to a film that somehow ends up working not in spite of its laziness or its lack of ambition but precisely because of them. It’s a weirdly confident film in this way. And for a film so otherwise un-noteworthy (though, again, still loads of fun) that’s weirdly notable.