Serious question: Has there ever been a “Men in Black” movie that wasn’t vaguely disappointing?
Not terrible, mind you, just slightly off the mark.It’s now four times — with “Men in Black: International” being the latest — that in its comedy and action didn’t take full advantage of the smartly silly premise Lowell Cunningham introduced in his comic book adventures of a super-secret organization that protects the Earth from intergalactic threats and keeps tabs on the many aliens living quietly among us.
This fourth installment — the first without Will Smith as the star — begins in fits and starts, jumping from location and era erratically. Two events are established in the past. One involves a girl, Molly, seeing the MIB’s wipe her parents’ memory in Brooklyn, 1999. The other, in Paris 2016, shows agents H (Chris Hemsworth) and T (Liam Neeson) battling some malevolent alien from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Cut to today, and Molly (Tessa Thompson) is a genius-level FBI applicant who wants to join the Men in Black. She eventually gets into the MIB’s New York headquarters, and impresses the boss, Agent O (Emma Thompson), to hire her as an agent, probationary, with the new name Agent M. O sends M to London to help deal with a threat.
In London, M is greeted by the bureau chief, T (now called High T, which is the height of the script’s cleverness). She’s paired with H, an assignment she accepts eagerly — even though other agents, like C (Rafe Spall), say he’s not the top agent he used to be.
H and M take an assignment that goes horribly wrong, thanks to two dreadlocked alien villains (played by Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, the French dance duo Les Twins), prompting the suspicion that there’s a mole within MIB.
The script by Matt Holloway and Art Marcum (who worked on the “Iron Man” and “Transformers: The Last Knight” screenplays) globe-hops through London, Paris, New York, Marrakesh and Italy, like a Bond movie without the visceral feel of danger. There are some encounters with characters portrayed by, in order of appearance, Kumail Nanjani and Rebecca Ferguson — but neither play as humorously as they probably should.
Director F. Gary Gray knows action, as “The Italian Job” and “The Fate of the Furious” demonstrate, but it’s been two decades since “Friday,” and Gray’s comedy chops are dated. Many of the jokes don’t land as effectively as they might have on paper. But the jokes aren’t as bland as Charles Wood’s production design, which feels generically futuristic instead of the very specific look of the first movies: The Pan Am terminal at JFK back in the mid-1960s.
There are bright spots in “Men in Black: International,” provided mostly by its leads. We already knew The smartly cool Tessa Thompson and roguish Chris Hemsworth had chemistry, from “Thor: Ragnarok,” but here it’s not lost in superhero frippery. Thompson shines out, in part because her M is the first character in the franchise who feels fully developed. If this installment is a hit, here’s hoping the filmmakers can build on Thompson and Hemsworth’s combined charms.
‘Men in Black: International’
Opens Friday, June 14, in theaters everywhere. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material. Running time: 114 minutes.