“Always Remember: The Universe Has a Way of Leading You to Where You’re Supposed to Be at the Moment You’re Supposed to Be There.” – Agent High T
Emerging several years after the entertaining yet faulty; Men in Black 3, Men in Black: International, released in 2019, serves as a soft reboot of the series, aiming to bring the undisclosed extraterrestrial defenders back for another similarly amusing, alien-blasting adventure. However, predominantly due to its outlandish story, trite humour and absurdly horrendous dialogue, Men in Black: International rarely reaches the heights of the 1997 sci-fi-comedy classic, nor the later, lesser entries in the well-known franchise, even with its noteworthy stars of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson carrying over much of their on-screen chemistry from 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok.
Plot Summary: After sharing an eye-opening encounter with an extraterrestrial as a child, Agent M, the M.I.B.’s newest probationary recruit, finds herself under the wing of Agent H, a past-his-prime hero of the closemouthed organisation, operating at the London branch. Meanwhile, a duo of shape-shifting alien assassins arrive on Earth, seeking a devastating super-weapon that could place the entire galaxy at risk…
Based on The Men in Black comic book series, created and written by Lowell Cunningham. Men in Black: International is the first film in the franchise not directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Instead, the film was directed by F. Gary Gray (Friday, The Negotiator, Straight Outta Compton), making Men in Black: International the second Gray-directed sequel to a Sonnenfeld flick, the first being; Be Cool in 2005, a sequel to 1995’s Get Shorty. Needless to say, this change in leadership (and screenwriters) could be seen as more of a negative than a positive, as the film lacks much of the disturbing violence and revolting practical effects present in the original trilogy as extensively as the satire. Furthermore, Men in Black: International‘s narrative leaves much to be desired, appearing overly simplistic and somehow equally convoluted, barring a couple of interesting concepts, such as a portal for transporting alien refugees or a mole within the M.I.B. organisation. The film is dragged down further by its ever-present cringy dialogue, which is near vomit-inducing in its many attempts to seem relevant. To its credit, Men in Black: International does, at least, manage to expand the universe of the films by introducing various international branches of the covert organisation, as its title suggests.
With Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones openly stating they would not return to the franchise for Men in Black: International, new leading actors/actresses had to be chosen. Still, they do appear in the film briefly, having long passed into legend as agents in a dramatised painting in the M.I.B. London head office. Regrettably, however, the revamped cast of Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson, Rafe Spall and Rebecca Ferguson are continually overblown in their performances, bouncing from scene to scene with ample energy regardless of tone. This issue is only made worse by the characterisation, which frequently forgets to provide the characters with motivations for their actions or any semblance of depth beyond the basics we learn of them, with Agent H being the foolish, once-hotshot agent of M.I.B. having previously saved Earth from an extraterrestrial invasion, whilst Agent M has desired to be an agent of the organisation since she was young.
Immaculate and radiant yet unimaginative, the cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh shares more of a visual resemblance to superhero blockbusters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe than any previous Men in Black instalment. Likewise, dissimilar to earlier entries in the franchise, Men in Black: International‘s plethora of extraterrestrial designs are dreadfully cartoonish in appearance, lacking the individuality and repulsive naturality of the series’ previous designs, all of which are unfortunately brought to life exclusively via CGI, with very few costumes/prosthetic make-up pieces employed. Having said that, there is one exception to this defect; the designs of the primary antagonists, the Hive, who retain a visually striking design, taking on the appearance of luminous, orange star clusters in a human physique.
In keeping with the rest of the Men in Black series, the original score is composed by Danny Elfman and newby Chris Bacon, who strive to capture the same musical spirit as previous franchise instalments through tracks like Job Interview, Here Comes Trouble and End Credits. And, for the most part, the composers are successful in this goal as the score sounds reminiscent of the original trilogy’s soundtracks while thankfully avoiding any lousy endeavours to modernise the series’ iconic theme.
When it comes to the humour, it’s apparent that there is a hefty deficiency of wit and surprise within the screenplay. As a result, most of the jokes throughout the runtime are either sluggish, irritating or immature. Additionally, during one particular scene, set within a hidden, extraterrestrial-filled nightclub, there is a weirdly out-of-place gag where Agent H attempts to spitefully manipulate Agent M into pleasuring Vungus, a party-hungry alien visiting Earth, which will surely make some audience members feel uncomfortable.
In summary, the mere notion of a Men in Black revival without the presence of Smith or Jones seems like an unmistakably terrible idea, comparable to how another swashbuckling Pirates of the Caribbean sequel without Johnny Depp’s inclusion would seem incomplete, standalone story or not. Even with its original cast in attendance, however, Men in Black: International likely still would’ve failed on account of its many other shortcomings, grinding its cast’s chemistry through the gears of a sci-fi franchise running low on reasons to persist. Rating: 3/10.