Director F. Gary Gray had a tough job on his hands taking over the Men in Black franchise from Barry Sonnenfeld, who directed all three of the original trilogy. Gray’s sequel/spin-off Men in Black: International partially captures the wackiness of what came before it, but fails to reach its full potential.
Unlike how Will Smith’s Agent J was covertly recruited in the first film, this story sees ambitious Molly (Tessa Thompson) actively seek out the Men in Black organisation after an incident in her childhood left her with memories of the existence of extra-terrestrials. When her dream comes true, and she finally becomes Agent M, she teams up with renowned operative Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), who has become somewhat lazy and arrogant since he saved the world with his boss, High T (Liam Neeson). Together, they set off to get to the bottom of a recent spate of alien attacks that have targeted different locations across the globe.
While there are some nods to its predecessors, such as appearances from the Worm Guys and Frank the Pug, the film does not rely on them. It succeeds in standing apart from the original trilogy and telling its own story, helped most of all by the ‘international’ dynamic which sees Agents M and H travel to Morocco, France, and beyond. However, neither the vibrant colours of Marrakech nor the bright lights of Paris are enough to blast it into hyper-speed. Considering the exciting franchise it belongs to, the film’s overall energy is relatively low and underwhelming. There are some enthralling action sequences, particularly those featuring the mysterious alien duo The Twins (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois), but they are few and far between.
However, the film’s greatest strength lies in the chemistry between Thompson and Hemsworth, who have become a beloved duo since they first appeared onscreen together in 2017s Thor: Ragnarok. They play off of each other well, and the banter between them injects some life into the otherwise lacklustre atmosphere of the film. It’s clear that they’re both naturally comedic actors, but so many jokes are forced into the screenplay that it barely leaves them room to breathe. Some of the gags land but a lot of them don’t, and the fault here lies with the dialogue rather than the delivery. It tries hard to be funny too often and, as a result, it comes off sounding unnatural. That being said, there is a particularly humorous moment involving Hemsworth’s Agent H and a hammer, which is bound to please the hordes of Thor fans out there.
In true Men in Black fashion, the film introduces a variety of weird and wonderful characters. The most memorable of them all is Pawny (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), a wise-cracking, pocket-sized alien whom M and H befriend along the way. From acting as a mediator during M and H’s disputes to pledging his undying allegiance to M as his ‘queen’, he adds an extra layer of playfulness to their scenes. He isn’t acquainted with the pair until much later on in the film, however, so the development of his relationship with them is rather rushed. Other new additions, such as Riza (Rebecca Ferguson) and Agent C (Rafe Spall), make much less of an impact and contribute relatively little to the story.
Despite the seven-year gap between this and the last Men in Black film, not a lot of time and care seems to have been put into it. For every clever joke, there’s one that falls flat. For every new and exciting character, there’s one that’s lifeless and forgettable. Having Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth onscreen together in a completely new setting promised so much, but ultimately the film was unable to match what they brought to the table.
by Holly Weaver
Holly Weaver is currently studying French and Spanish at the University of Leeds, and has spent her year abroad studying film in Montréal. She is enraptured by pre-1960s cinema and some of her favourite films include Singin’ in the Rain, City Lights and The Crime of Monsieur Lange. You can find her tweeting and letterboxd’ing at @drivermiller.