Men in Black: International will not be the best movie you see this year. There are plot issues, character arcs go unfinished, and the ending felt rushed. But it’s still a campy, cool sci-fi spy thriller—one that coasts on the natural charisma of Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, who may be one of this generation’s best comedic duos. In a sense, it kind of feels like the perfect sequel to the original Men in Black. It’s an entertaining movie made better by the people in it.
The latest Men in Black sequel stars Thompson as Molly, a young woman who encountered an alien when she was young and has spent her life obsessing over the mysterious “men in black.”She wants to know who they are—and, more important, become one of them. She spends decades trying to uncover the truth, and succeeds. She’s recruited by Emma Thompson’s impeccable Agent O into the Men in Black. Molly, now called Agent M, is fun, smart, and thinks fast on her feet. It’s a role that definitely plays to Tessa Thompson’s strengths, and she was a delight to watch. However, her training scenes were practically non-existent, and there were times she seemed a little too prepared. Come on, not even one misfired gun? I wanted to see her fuck up and learn from her mistakes a bit more. One thing the original Men in Black did well was show Agent J struggling to learn the ropes.
Instead, the movie decides to cast much of its fuckery onto Agent H (Hemsworth). He’s a seasoned agent whose life took a downward spiral a few years earlier, after saving the world from a mysterious enemy called The Hive. It’s clear something’s changed about him (mostly because the movie loves reminding us of that over and over) and he’s become kind of a reckless playboy. Hemsworth’s scenes were a blast to watch, even if they sometimes felt like they were borrowed from other movies. There’s quite a bit of Kingsman in there, and some of Hemworth’s one-liners felt like they were trying to bring back that Thor: Ragnarok magic. Though it’s hard to tell how much of that was from the script, or from Hemsworth being Hemsworth.
Agents M and H are thrust into the middle of a conspiracy, which they fear could involve the Men in Black itself. When there’s no one else to trust, the two of them are forced to rely on each other. This is where the movie shines. I know some fans will be disappointed that Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones aren’t back for this movie (although there’s a lovely tribute to them), but Thompson and Hemsworth were the right actors to don the shades and become the new tag team.
Things start a bit awkward between them but the pair settles into a comfortable rhythm over the course of the film, similar to the one they established in Ragnarok—with Thompson playing the quirky but confident hero, and Hemsworth the arrogant doofus with moments of wisdom. The movie doesn’t build their relationship that much, but it doesn’t need to. The chemistry is already there.
The international setting gives the movie a distinct James Bond vibe, which was an excellent idea. The fight choreography and action sequences are solid, and use the film’s new alien species to their full potential. Speaking of which, the alien designs in this movie are fantastic, with some creative choices harkening back to one of the things the original did so well (though this time they’re mostly CGI). The bad guys we come across early in the film, for example, look like a couple of Doctor Manhattans surrounded by swirls of emission nebula. I was in awe every time they were onscreen, and their abilities were used to their fullest potential to make an incredibly vivid visual.
And goddammit, I loved Kumail Nanjiani’s stupid pawn alien, as much as I wanted to loathe him. He felt tacked on, to the point where I think they added dialogue for him in scenes that had already been shot, but I didn’t care. Nanjiani is a delight, and got the most laughs at the screening I went to.
However, as previously mentioned, the story leaves a lot to be desired. Some scenes felt like they dragged on too long, others felt rushed or left on the cutting room floor. And while the main plot line was solid, the ending was way too rushed. I think Agent H’s relationship with his mentor, High T (Liam Neeson), was the biggest victim here. The movie acts like their relationship is important but we don’t see it in action enough to justify its significance. I get that the movie wants to spend time with H and M, they’re the stars, but if you’re going to center H’s emotional arc around his relationship with High T, it has to be earned.
I also had a problem with one of M’s main conflicts in the film centering around romance, falling back on a tired trope. The movie does acknowledge her priorities (to stay detached for the sake of her job) and never asks her to compromise them. But I think her story could have been served much better by creating more parallels between her and Agent O and the relationship between Agent H and High T.
But Men in Black: International isn’t a movie that needs to be perfect in order to be worth your time. Hell, the original wasn’t perfect either, but that doesn’t matter. It’s about the experience, and the experience I had watching Men in Black: International was fun and I think viewers of all ages will feel the same. I had a great time, plot issues and all, and I would love to see more from Agents M and H in the future. The movie does end on an ambiguous note about their future, but as Annie would say: The giant portal laser will come out of the Eiffel Tower tomorrow. Betcha bottom dollar.
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