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Alien stagnation – ‘Men in Black: International’

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As Hollywood studios continue to clamor for viable franchises to turn into nine-figure blockbusters, there are going to be … let’s call them miscalculations. For every successful series that breeds summer hits, a half-dozen very expensive failures will land on screens with a thud before quietly (and quickly) disappearing.

Unfortunately, the latest effort in that vein “Men in Black: International” – the fourth movie in the “MIB” series and the first without stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones – falls into the latter category; the new film has its moments but is largely lacking the spirit of its predecessors.

It’s not an outright failure (well, creatively speaking – the initial box office estimates do not speak well of its commercial viability), but director F. Gary Gray never quite figures out how best to utilize the clear and present chemistry of his two leads; Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are dynamite together – the MCU has proven that a couple of times – but while their dynamics are a major highlight, the relationship isn’t enough to elevate the film beyond its myriad narrative shortcomings.

Molly Wright (Thompson) has devoted her life to solving a mystery from her childhood. When she was just a kid, she witnessed her parents having their memories wiped by Men in Black following a brief encounter with an alien. Molly also encounters the alien; she winds up helping it escape. The next 20 years are all about finding out who those mysterious men were, and thanks to an unauthorized landing in New York City, she’s able to track them down.

Her brazenness convinces head of MIB operations Agent O (Emma Thompson, “Late Night”) to give her a chance to join the team. She’s made a probationary agent and sent to the organization’s London offices, where she meets High T (Liam Neeson, “Cold Pursuit”), head of the London branch. The newly-christened Agent M is a bit out of her depth, but soon attaches herself to Agent H (Hemsworth), a legendary field agent who has developed a reputation for recklessness.

But when a member of an alien royal family is killed on their watch, M and H are thrust into the middle of an intergalactic conflict. The pair comes into possession of an unknown object, something so powerful that it could wind up shifting the tide in a universal war – one being waged by a sinister and parasitic race known as The Hive against, well … pretty much everyone else.

The two agents are on their own, unsure of who – if anyone – they can trust. Their only reliable ally is the diminutive Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani, TV’s “Silicon Valley”); meanwhile, they’re left to deal with the suspicions of fellow MIB Agent C (Rafe Spall, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”) and the unwanted attentions of big-time alien arms dealer – and former flame of Agent H – Riza (Rebecca Ferguson, “The Kid Who Would Be King”).

Racing against time, it’s up to M and H to save the world – no matter what it takes.

Look, it was perfectly reasonable to think that the “Men in Black” franchise still had some juice in it; the previous film was pretty well-received both critically and commercially. With a rich conceit like this one, there was room to grow narratively. And again, we already had proof of concept with regards to the pairing of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of new ground being broken here. That feeling of same-old-same-old permeates the entire proceedings, which leads to a general vibe of unnecessity. And with that lack of urgency, the need for big set pieces and big laughs is exponentially amplified … and “Men in Black: International” just doesn’t deliver.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some worthwhile moments, but those moments are far too few to make up for the lack of forward movement. With this little development, you have to deliver big-time with the popcorn-y stuff, which this movie consistently does not do.

As for whose fault it is? Lay the blame squarely behind the camera. F. Gary Gray is a legitimate filmmaking talent, but this project was always going to be an awkward fit – an awkwardness that was exacerbated by the thin and disjointed script put forth by co-writers Matt Holloway and Art Marcum. It’s a team that looked good on paper, but that in practice woefully underperformed that theoretical strength.

An element that definitely does not underperform is the excellent cast. Watching Hollywood unlock Chris Hemsworth’s comic-action potential is a real delight; he’s a phenomenal fit for this sort of film. And Tessa Thompson is a gifted actress with a great sense of comedic timing. The two of them together are enough of a delight to make you wish the movie was better; we just have to hope they get another chance.

It certainly doesn’t hurt when you have icons cheerfully killing it in supporting roles. Sure, Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson can work this material in their sleep, but it doesn’t stop either of them from providing solid work. Nanjiani is clearly having a good time voicing a tiny alien, even if his clear comic relief placement occasionally grates. And Ferguson chomps her way through her relatively brief appearance with clear delight.

Alas, it isn’t enough. “Men in Black: International” might mark the last hurrah for this particular franchise; it was a noble effort, but despite the best efforts of a strong cast, it simply doesn’t click. In truth, you won’t even need a neuralyzer to forget this one – the memories will be mostly gone by the time you get home.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 19 June 2019 18:28

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