Men In Black: International is a sterile, stodgy, nondescript, and overall boring spin-off of a beloved (but not really) franchise.
When the original Men in Black came out in 1997, it caught a rising star in a young Will Smith who was fresh off conquering the world in Independence Day, a director in Barry Sonnenfeld who was coming off a career peak with Get Shorty, and that combined groundbreaking special effects mixed with a weird sense of dark irreverent humor; Sonnenfeld let his freak flag fly which is rare in a summer blockbuster film (you are talking about a director who got his start in pornography before the Coen Brothers gave him a job on Blood Simple). The ensuing chapters, like most franchises, with every passing installment was like the film Groundhog Day where Bill Murray trying to recapture the same magic he had with Allie McDowell in that one special moment they had in the snow: you can’t duplicate that same electricity, that same spark, as those moments come rarely and hardly ever repeat. Men in Black: International fits that mold and is a poor attempt at a spin-off (maybe a reboot or a reimagining?) of a once-beloved franchise (but not really).
In the latest installment, it seems like the MIB organization has still kept its sexist name (I mean, a fresher take would have been a change to WIB one would think, but let’s not let common sense or political correctness get in the way of making money) and has expanded globally. Taking over the Will Smith rookie role is Tessa Thompson (Marvel’s Valkyrie) a determined young agent who has been rejected by several government organizations in her quest to find the secret headquarters of the group she witnessed “neuralyse” her parents when she was a child. She then teams up with Agent H (Avengers Endgame’s Chris Hemsworth) after being given a probationary agent status by Agent O (Late Night’s Emma Thompson), the new head of the organization. Soon, under the direction of Agent T (Cold Pursuit’s Liam Neeson), M and H take on the mysterious alien life forms who can shapeshift into humans on earth.
Yet, everything you just read is practically the same tired concept that has been going on with this franchise since the start of its existence — has it really taken twenty years to be astounded that the aliens take human form? While adding Tessa Thompson is a step in the right direction, you still have most of the roles filled by old white men, as if the aliens fill the quota for diversity. Even more shocking is how this spin-off is simply laugh-free, which may be a byproduct of a franchise that hasn’t been funny since the concept wore off after the original film. The result is a sterile, stodgy, nondescript, and overall a boring spin-off of a once-beloved franchise. Even the attempt that would seem to be a sure thing, the pairing of Hemsworth and Thompson, who previously showed some wonderful buddy-comic chemistry in the well-received Thor Ragnorak, has mysteriously left them here. So much so, it’s as if the actors themselves were neuralysed before the film shoot started.
Director F. Gary Gray had a rare hot streak that lasted over twenty years, starting with the comedy classic Friday, and that ended last week with Men in Black: International. Here is a director who knows comedy (Friday), action (The Fate of the Furious), and even smart filmmaking (The Negotiator), that teamed with an actor in Hemsworth that has an innate, natural ability to be funny (I know, life isn’t fair for most of us), and even directed the well-received spin-off to Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty in Be Cool. Yet, almost nothing works here. You can’t recreate the same magic and call it original, consumers are too smart for that. The simple explanation for the latest installment’s crash at the box office is this: while those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, those who repackage history are doomed to realize consumers won’t pay for it.