FILM REVIEW – MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL. With Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Rebecca Ferguson, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson. Written by Matt Holloway & Art Marcum. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material. 114 minutes.
The original “Men in Black” (1997) was so much fun that we keep hoping the sequels and spinoffs will live up to it. After more than two decades of trying, you’d think we’d know better. Instead we get the quirky aliens, and the stoic agents who can wipe the memories of any civilians who see what they shouldn’t have seen, and yet another tired story that fails to engage.
The best thing about MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL is the arrival of Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth to the franchise. Thompson is Agent M, a civilian who encountered an alien as a child and has figured out how to contact the Men in Black, the organization that oversees alien visitors to Earth. She’s told they usually do the recruiting of new members but accept her as a probationary agent. Her boss, Agent O (Emma Thompson, no relation), sends her to London on assignment. There she is partnered with Agent H (Hemsworth), the superstar of the British office.
What was amusing in the first film – that the agents are known only by single letters – is less so here, as there are only 26 letters in the alphabet. Just how many agents share the same letter? The plot involves an alien weapon, a pair of alien assassins, and the threat of a mole in the British operation. None of it is especially interesting, and while the special effects are dazzling, they have the narrative depth of a fireworks display. At no time do we actually care what’s going to happen beyond the default “rooting for the good guys.”
The bulk of the film falls on Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, and its shortcomings are not due to anything on their part. Thompson plays Agent M as a young woman getting the opportunity of a lifetime eager to prove herself. As with the recent “Dark Horizon,” the film notes that the number of women in the organization makes the “Men in Black” label as misleading as “X-Men,” but Thompson is allowed to be a character, not a symbol with which to bludgeon the audience.
If there’s a reason to see this, it may be to watch Hemsworth continue his emergence as more than beefcake, but a genuinely funny performer. As he showed in “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Avengers: Endgame,” he’s got the looks and build of a conventional action hero, but he can also be genuinely goofy. One of the best gags in the film is an allusion to his performances as Thor in the Marvel movies. The announcement that he’s to work on a forthcoming biopic as wrestler Hulk Hogan is definitely something to anticipate.
Unfortunately, “Men in Black: International” is a film that requires an undemanding audience that will be satisfied by simply repeating variations of what worked before. The two leads both deserve better, as do moviegoers.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.