Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth take over the Men In Black franchise, along with director F Gary Gray – and here’s our review.
Come the end of the last Men In Black film, a finale was cobbled together that you could perhaps charitably file on the odd side. One of those story moments that feels like it came out of an hours-long meeting where the coffee machine packed up 20 minutes in. Still a hit movie, of course, but then even though the quality level of Men In Black sequels has been on the no thanks side, the central concept shrieks of fun. People in smart suits, investigating generally comedic aliens, all whilst the rest of us go about our business. A recipe for snappy comedy, with a bag of special effects, that doesn’t outstay its welcome. With a quality font on the opening credits.
Reboot time, then. Wisely, Men In Black International disassociates itself from the story of the original trilogy, with Emma Thompson’s boss the only holdover. Instead, the tale starts from the outside, as Tessa Thompson’s soon-to-be-Agent M witnesses the agents at work from her bedroom window when she’s just a child. It starts a quest in her mind to uncover just who this organisation is, and how to be a part of it.
This does not take long, as getting bogged down in plot is something Men In Black International eschews until its final act. We thus get Liam Neeson’s ultimate chief, High T, in a piece of casting that was probably a fine idea until the turn of the year. But the other lead is Chris Hemsworth as Agent H, bringing his brand of easy movie star charm to the role. Will Smith is barely missed, and that’s no slight on him.
Even though the ingredients are slightly different, the recipe – appreciating this is a story that starts from the outside – ultimately is familiar. Slick special effects, breezy action sequences, comedy aliens and quick wit. Also new to the franchise is director F Gary Gray, and he in particular shoots the film’s foes in an impressive way. He also knows – as do screenwriters Matt Holloway and Art Marcum – to keep his foot on the accelerator.
But why have these films never zipped as they arguably should? Outside of the first film, what looks good fun on paper has struggled to impress on the big screen. History ultimately repeats itself. There’s an element of that again here. Men In Black International is slick and glossy and visually effective, certainly. But I’ve always felt – particularly from the last two sequels – that this whole concept should make for funnier films. In the case of this one, it’s at its best when anyone with the surname Thompson is on the screen – Tessa does the heavy lifting, and is terrific – yet it still feels barren of decent chuckles. There’s one cameo too that presumably was felt to be a witty inclusion at the planning stage, but left my soul bereft, fearing for the future of cinema when I saw it.
That aside, the film moves along with a good dose of energy for its first two acts, only to let the air out of the tyres with a finale that bogs itself down in plot that it’s hard to give two hoots about, even if you didn’t see it coming some way off.
In the scheme of Men In Black movies though, I’d still mark this as an upgrade on the last two. Certainly with the new crew on board too, there’s a potential for a better adventure in the future. It’s just I’ve got to the end of one of these movies again with a degree of frustration: why doesn’t this all work better than it should now? Why doesn’t this click? It’s perfectly decent, it certainly benefits from moving the action outside of the US. But a week on from seeing it, barely a thing about it has stuck in my head. It feels a bit like me doing P.E. at school: “tries hard, but room for improvement”. Quite.