OnScreen Review: "Men in Black: International"

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  • Ken Jones, Chief Film Critic

As I was walking into the movie theater to see Men in Black: International, I saw a poster for the movie that featured Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, and Liam Neeson. I thought to myself, “Hmm, I haven’t seen Liam Neeson in much of the trailers for this movie. I assumed that he died early or something. But I’m seeing him on the posters. I’ll bet he’s the bad guy. He’s supposed to be in charge of the London branch of the MIB in the movie, and the movie is supposed to be about there potentially being a mole in the ranks of the MIB, the most obvious person would be the famous actor they have cast to be in charge.”

When the movie starts, Hemsworth’s Agent H and Nesson’s Agent T pull up to the Eiffel Tower in Paris (because this MIB is international), and they exchange what is supposed to be witty dialogue while preparing to square off against an alien entity known as The Hive which is arriving through a portal at the top of the Eiffel Tower. The movie cuts away before we see what happens, but we see later that H and T saved the world with nothing but their wits and their Series-7 De-Atomizers. “Hmm, I’ll bet there is more to that story than we’re being told,” I thought to myself.

Right after that scene, we are introduced to the childhood version of Tessa Thompson’s Agent M (M for Molly) in New York City, who has a chance encounter with an alien critter that is digging through the trash cans in their back yard. Her parents get neuralysed by two MIB agents, but she doesn’t because her parents mistakenly tell the agents that she is asleep. She overhears the agents say that the creature she ends up helping escape look cute when they’re little but grow up into real monsters. As the little guy leaves, he says something in his native tongue to Molly. “I bet we’ll see him later on in the movie all grown up in the present somehow and that phrase will come in handy.”

As it turns out, I ended up going three-for-three on these predictions. I point this out not to toot my own horn but to point out how utterly predictable nearly every aspect of this movie is. It is entirely predictable and shockingly inert. I enjoyed the Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones trifecta of movies, though mainly the first one. And I was cautiously optimistic with this one, being directed by F. Gary Gray, who last gave us Straight Outta Compton and The Fate of the Furious, and starring Thompson and Hemsworth, who had wonderful chemistry and comedic timing together in Thor: Ragnarok. What they don’t have this time around is the comedic sensibilities of Taika Waititi on set.

Thompson actually gets the lead role as the new Agent who manages to hunt down this secretive agency after all these years and is a probationary Agent that is sent to London to look into a potential mole inside the MIB London bureau. Once the movie puts Agent M and Agent H together as partners, it seems like the film can’t make up its mind about whether there should be some romantic subtext between the two characters. It seems to go right up to the brink of suggesting maybe there is a few times, but then seems to completely back away from it. It’s vacillating, lukewarm, and noncommittal as a result. 

These movies have always been action comedies, so they’ve never been about anything deeply profound, but it actually does feel like something of a missed opportunity to not make the movie about aliens seeking asylum and immigrating to our planet as commentary about the world we live in now, at least as a secondary aspect of the movie. Most of the pieces are there for this, with Eiffel creating his tower to actually be a portal to bring alien refugees here. Or maybe it’s better that they didn’t attempt it; given how empty headed and uninteresting most of this movie is, it probably would not have been handled competently.

One of the few redeeming qualities of the film is the voice work of Kumail Nanjiani, who voices Pawny, a little alien of a species that is like a chess board, with pawns and pieces who all serve a queen. Pawny ends up being a breath of fresh air in this movie. He ends up taking on Agent M essentially as his new queen, riding in her pocket, being useful in certain situations, and also providing the best (maybe only) laughs of the movie.

The summer movie season has quickly taken a downturn in recent weeks. In the span of 16 days I saw Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dark Phoenix, and now Men in Black: International. They’re the three worst movies I’ve seen in 2019, and Men in Black: International might be the worst of the bunch. I won’t need to be neuralysed to forget Men in Black: International; it’s completely forgettable on its own, which is a shame because I’m a huge fan of practically everyone involved.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars