Probation MIB operative, Agent M (Tessa Thompson), gets relocated to MIB London for her first assignment. Tagging along with their London’s Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), the two are embroiled in an assassination that brings them against a foe known as The Hive. The Hive is a vicious species that H and his mentor Agent High T (Liam Neeson) have faced and defeated before. But with The Hive’s return and their ability to disguise themselves, they pose an even more dangerous threat to Earth. Can anyone be trusted? Especially those in MIB London?
Warning, there is a slight spoiler warning in this review. If you wish to go in Men in Black International without a key plot point revealed, please come back once you’ve watched the film.
Men in Black was a franchise that caught the imagination when it first arrived in cinemas, all the way back in 1997. It wasn’t just sci-fi movie but it was a comic book adaptation. Lowell Cunningham’s creation transferred well to its first movie outing with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones a great double act as our intergalactic reliable agents. It was funny, visually impressive at the time with its special effects and let’s not forget that nice song from Will Smith too.
After that, it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride. The follow up in 2002 disappointed despite a considerable rewrite taking place after the events of 9/11. We had to wait ten further years for a third outing, MIB3 in 2012, which did restore some goodwill. Nowhere near the crowd pleasing exploits of the 1997 original but it wasn’t a complete disaster.
So it was quite surprising, now seven years after the last entry, to see Men in Black return in what could easily be described as a soft reboot. This was after rumours of a potential crossover with 21 Jump Street which in itself would have been a spectacular curiosity if it went ahead. But on paper, this reboot has good ingredients. Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson reuniting after Thor: Ragnarok, solid supporting actors in Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson. If it came together with a solid script and direction, this could be a surprise revival.
Alas, this is not what happens here.
Let’s get some positives out of the way because I don’t feel Men in Black International is a horrific failure. It is absolutely lovely to see Hemsworth and Thompson properly together again after Thor: Ragnarok. However, the film’s script limits their chemistry. There’s no overtly fun banter like we saw in Ragnarok for them.
Yes, there’s occasional comedy conflict. Thompson is the eager excitable probation MIB agent wanting to do well and Hemsworth the veteran who’s more than happy to coast through assignments. It would work well with a comedy minded director. But the script’s limitation, and blandish guidance from F. Gary Gray (Fast & Furious 8), clearly demonstrates how much of an influence behind the camera Taika Waititi was in the lead’s previous Marvel collaboration.
If you’re looking for any real moments of fun, they come from the introduction of Kumail Nanjiani’s loyal companion Pawny. Once Pawny arrives, there’s a better injection of fun between our leads. They’re likeable characters but you wish they were given more. I feel a comedy director would have done more.
There are additional tiny nuggets of mirth to enjoy as well. The MIB world building continues, a new branch of MIB, new aliens, new tech, etc. It’s a universe that could flourish if the series is to continue beyond this instalment. However, that might be considerably tricky considering already its had a low box office opening domestically in the US. And I haven’t got to my main issue with the film.
The plot hole riddled main storyline truly damages International’s goodwill. A slight spoiler warning here as this observation might delve a little bit too deep into this as we progress.
So, the film starts with a tease of a vital encounter with the film’s antagonists, The Hive. Young Agent H and mentor High T fight them in The Eiffel Tower. We don’t see the whole confrontation. There’s nothing wrong with that. But as the film progresses, it’s repeatedly referred to. They are the agents who defeated this wicked species and its celebrated. It’s celebrated to the lengths of the original Men in Black’s exploits – which are nodded to in a nice Easter egg.
It feels vital, it feels this opening event is important. It’s important because there’s a sense we’re going to see the full confrontation, perhaps it’s the scene we’ll discover the secret to stopping The Hive.
Well, it’s so important, you never see what happens! Instead, it’s pretty much info dumped on you. Your big sticking plot point, just casually explained so everyone can go off and save the day from the enemy within MIB.
It infuriates me.
This creates a gaping big hole and it shouldn’t have existed in the first place! Simple storytelling of “show, don’t tell” can be incredibly rewarding and it really needed it here. From a storytelling front, you could have showed the encounter and fooled the audience a bit, play with what they see. Wouldn’t it be a nice twist if something happened right before our eyes and we didn’t see it? What a nice reveal it would be. But no, this doesn’t happen in a storyline where we can’t trust people from within MIB as there are moles about.
When you play the “mole” plotline, you need some great red herrings. There are only two presented to the audience. One is Rafe Spall’s Agent C, who’s character is far too pencil pushing to be a traitor. The second one is the shocking idea that Hemsworth’s character could be hiding something sinister. It’s suggested when a character references that “He’s changed!” That would have been great but whatever attempts are made are fairly weak.
However, the fact that this one event at the start of the film is presented as such a landmark moment in the story, it makes the film incomplete. With no real sense of closure as to what really happened. Unfortunately, it pretty much signposts who the mole is from the start. So what was the point of the last two hours?
To be honest, it didn’t stand out too much to me when I saw the film. But when I thought about it once the credits rolled, it dawned increasingly on me that this was lazy filmmaking and insulting to audiences.
Honestly, I think Rebecca Ferguson’s Riza, an alien arms dealer, was a much more interesting villain than The Hive. On reflection, it would have been nice to get more mileage out of the character and her past with Hemsworth’s H. The segment alone stood out in a boorish 2nd act. Pity, it was followed by an infuriating finale.
Is it a disaster? As I remarked earlier, no. I can imagine others enjoying the film for what it’s worth and not take it to task like myself. I don’t regret my time with International and genuinely wanted to like this. It’s watchable but it is problematic by its storyline, its incompleteness and its lacks the spark that made the original stand out.
Overall, I get the distinct impression that’ll this might be neuralyzed quickly.
Men in Black International is at UK cinemas now.