For millennials, the original Men In Black is one of those films embedded into the pantheon of our early cinema experiences, alongside Home Alone, Toby Maguire’s Spiderman, and a whole host of Disney animations. The unlikely but brilliant chemistry between Tommy Lee Jones’s stony-faced Agent K and Will Smith’s lovably cocky Agent J formed the backbone of a film which steamrolled merrily along through an engaging and action-packed plot.
If only the same could be said about Men In Black: International. After a promising opening sequence involving a flashback within a flashback, the film meanders and staggers through a barely-there plot, which even in its strongest moments feels like a rehashing of the original 1997 movie’s storyline. Perhaps it’s all the neuralyzers, but this is a highly forgettable film.
After an early childhood encounter with the MIB, Molly (Tessa Thompson) spends the next 20 years seeking employment within the ultra-secretive organisation. She eventually does so, joining MIB’s New York branch under the supervision of Agent O (Emma Thompson). As part of her “probationary period”, she’s assigned to shadow the arrogant, charming Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) in the agency’s London contingency, headed up by High T (Liam Neeson). The duo then embark upon on a whirlwind tour of Europe and North Africa, in a bid to prevent the world from yet another intergalactic threat.
“Perhaps it’s all the neuralyzers, but this is a highly forgettable film.”
Chris Hemsworth’s Agent H, who spends his days wandering around the MIB headquarters and snoozing on the job, is fundamentally dislikable, and it’s a problem. There’s a fine line between ‘charming bad boy’ and ‘annoying schoolkid’, and it’s a line Hemsworth crosses far too often. His Bond-esque British accent routinely falls flat on its face – every sentence starts out Australian before veering into American somewhere around the middle, only for Hemsworth to remember his character is supposed to be British and bringing in a couple of soft ‘T’s to round things off. It just doesn’t feel like he’s even trying.
Tessa Thompson is compelling enough to watch, but her performance is often drowned out by the movie’s undisciplined narrative and exposition-filled dialogue. Her character feels inconsistent and cobbled together – on the one hand, she’s a genius-level astrophysicist with no time for love and other emotional nonsense, and on the other, she’s ostensibly charmed by Hemsworth’s hollow, brattish Agent H. The film reaches its ‘kill-me-now’ climax when the two Agents discuss the merits of cold, rational logic versus the emotional turbulence of love. Barf.
Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson are afforded very little screen time between them. Whenever they are crowbarred in to hurry the plot along with some lightly-dressed exposition, both give unengaged performances that belie their capabilities as world-class performers. Liam Neeson, in particular, looks bored out of his mind.
It’s not all bad, though. The panoply of colourful alien characters and space-age gadgetry is as delightful as it ever was, though the iconically sleek, silver, alien weapons which felt so gloriously weighty and mechanical in the original film now feel more like the cheap plastic toys which they likely are (perhaps 4K cameras aren’t always a good idea.) Particular praise must go to ‘Pawny’, the wise-cracking four-inch-tall alien sidekick voiced by Kumail Nanjiani, who could probably hold his own spin-off TV series. But Pawny isn’t so much stealing the show as being the show – he’s the only watchable character in an otherwise flat, mind-numbing flick.