Movie Review: ‘Men in Black International’

Director: F. Gary Gray

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rafe Spall

Plot: Molly became aware of the Men in Black as a young child and spent her life trying to track them down. Once she does, and proves her worth, she is paired with the arrogant Agent H to investigate an assassination that opens the door to a much larger threat.

Review: There was something about the marketing for this reboot of the Men in Black franchise that has been bugging me. All the posters and standees and trailers I saw featured Frank the Pug and the caffeine addicted wormy alien guys. Guys – just repeating the same jokes from the first film does not work. The original sequel was garbage in part due to this. Recycling all the same gags and adding a giant toilet didn’t work 20 years ago and it’s not going to work today.

Fortunately that is not the case here, as the pug dog and the coffee aliens only appeared and very brief cameos. Literally seconds. So why they included them in the marketing is perplexing. Firstly, it ruins the fun of seeing the cameos and secondly its going to put people off if they remember what happened with Men in Black II. This new International branching out from the original series is fairly fresh in the scheme of things.

After a standard issue prologue we meet Molly, a young girl who helps an alien and learns of the Men in Black (who weirdly didn’t do anything about the alien who they said was dangerous). She spends the next 20 years of her life looking for this mysterious organisation, eventually locating and infiltrating the New York branch. The adult Molly (Tessa Thompson) convinces Agent O (Emma Thompson) that she was MIB material and shows herself to be a worthwhile recruit. She is quickly dispatched to London to work within the British Branch. Her she meets the branch leader High T (Neeson) and begins work with local legend Agent H (Hemsworth).

It isn’t long being Agent H’s poor attitude irks the newly assigned Agent M, but when a simple bodyguard job turns sour they are forced to work together as numerous dangerous aliens and even the MIB start hunting them. The Agents travel across the globe before discovering the truth behind a mysterious artefact and a potential mole in the MIB.

After a rocky, poorly paced first act in which we don’t get to see nearly enough of Tessa Thompson going through her MIB training it becomes clear that the folks behind this return to the MIB franchise understand what made the original so appealing: the world. Whilst the original had a serviceable story it was the peek behind the veil of the organisation that made it so much fun. Every explanation of their technology, the aliens, the Agent’s techniques was delightful. The sequels dropped the ball hard when they simply repeated all the same jokes without adding to the world. When Men in Black International is at its strongest is when we see more of this world building in action.

The story and characters and solid enough to keep things ticking along…except for one annoying thing. It’s hinted at early on that there’s a mole in the London MIB branch and they spend half the movie trying to lure us in to some dopey red herrings, such as the smarmy Agent C (Spall) acting suspicious. It gets to the point where it’s getting in the way of character development.

Surprisingly there’s less focus on the comedy in this new entry of the series, or at least there’s nowhere near enough of the laugh out loud moments Smith and Jones gave us. Instead this is structured more like a spy movie and it works as its own thing. The alien characters and designs are consistently interesting, with Laurent and Larry Bourgeois playing a pair of very nicely designed creatures created with some solid effects work.

This is not going to supplant the original, but it opens the doors for a fresh run at a series that squandered its potential. It’s a fun outing.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN