The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:


Foreign Aliens

Chris Hemsworth
Chris Hemsworth
Columbia Pictures
 114 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed ByF. Gary Gray
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson    
Men in Black: International

Ever since movies began appearing on video, Disney has adopted a highly disciplined and very effective strategy for maximizing the income to be derived from its prize animated properties. Instead of releasing them as quickly as possible and keeping them in print forever, the studio “kept” most of them in “the vault,” to be re-released on occasion to great fanfare and even greater sales. The strategy worked: people flocked to buy Bambi or 101 Dalmatians during the brief release window before they disappeared again into the vault. Fast forward a few years to a new generation of youngsters eager to see the Disney classics, and the cycle repeated itself. Apparently, someone at Sony came up with the idea of applying the vault strategy to one of their more valuable properties, the Men in Black franchise, which is long past its expiration date. The strategy isn’t a total failure, but the result, entitled Men in Black: International feels like it emerged from the vault of mediocrity instead of the Disney vault.


The original Men in Black, released in 1997, had a great concept, namely, that aliens lived and worked among us, and that a super-secret agency known as the Men in Black kept tabs on those, safeguarding the decent visitors while protecting the Earth from those extraterrestrials bent on death and destruction. The visuals of “ordinary” people who turned out to be aliens in disguise, when added to the offbeat chemistry between co-stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, made the movie a deserved hit. Unfortunately, the franchise writers only had about one-and-a-half films worth of material to work with, so the two inevitable sequels largely fizzled because the novelty of the concept had long since worn off. Apparently, Sony felt that by moving the film’s location overseas, installing an almost entirely new cast, and just waiting a few years, they could recapture the franchise’s magic. To be fair, a few of the latest additions work and a few of the old jokes do too, at least the first time they appear onscreen. But, for the most part, Sony’s efforts call to mind the phrase, putting lipstick on a pig.


The stars of Men in Black: International are Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, fresh off their appearance in Avengers: Endgame. He is Agent H, a cocky stud, who gets by on looks and charm but isn’t the sharpest tack in the box. She is that sharpest tack, Agent M, and, unlike most of the other Men in Black, she recruited the agency rather than the other way around. As a child, she saw a couple of agents question her parents and then erase their memory of the events surrounding a missing baby alien (who, Molly, the young agent M-to-be, helps hide).


Fast forward 20 years and Molly remains obsessed with the Men in Black, to the extent of tracking down their headquarters and getting inside. Eventually, she impresses the station chief, Agent O (Emma Thompson), so much that she joins the organization and is sent to London as a probationary agent. There, the agent in charge High T (Liam Neeson) teams M team with Agent H (Hemsworth) on what should be a routine mission, keeping an alien dignitary safe. That mission doesn’t end well, as the dignitary is killed by a pair of identical-appearing alien assassins (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois). Before he dies, the official gives M a crystal to keep safe and a warning that the MIB has been infiltrated. M and H follow the trail of the twins to Marrakesh, where they discover that the crystal can expand to become a powerful weapon that, in the wrong hands, like those of the Twins or of H’s former girlfriend and arms dealer Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), could be disastrous. Naturally, they run into both the Twins and Riza, each of whom has plans for the weapon.


Sometimes, there’s a bizarre coincidence between two unrelated movies than immediately invites viewers to make a comparison between the two. Both Men in Black: International and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum features scenes in which their protagonists, impeccably dressed in dark tailored suits, wind up in the middle of the Sahara Desert. But while I remember the events in the big set piece in Casablanca that resulted in John Wick heading into the desert quite well, the scene with M and H in the Marrakech marketplace is much more of a blur, despite the fact I’d seen Men in Black: International much more recently.


And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with the latest Men in Black adventure. Much of it is either generic or routine or both. The one fresh idea, that of young Molly finding the MIB instead of the other way around, is dropped as soon as she goes on her first mission with H, except for a very convenient encounter between Agent M and the grown-up version of the baby alien she befriended decades earlier. The aliens look bizarre enough, with the CGI animation being an improvement over the models that were primarily used in the first Men in Black in 1997. But their novelty quickly wears off (the best effect is an alien disguised as the beard of another alien).


Another good idea, that of twin alien villains who might have proven genuinely menacing in the right movie, also becomes little more than a gimmick. The ultimate villains, the Hive, seem like a poorly fleshed out version of Star Trek’s Borg. And the search for the mole in MIB headquarters proves to be the least compelling mystery since that of who slept in the Three Bears’ bed. All in all, the screenwriters just took ideas from a whole lot of sources and threw them together to produce a bland, generic plot that incorporates several elaborate but underwhelming action scenes.


Actually, the most significant change that Men in Black: International made to its original structure is the part of the movie that works best. Instead of merely trying to replicate the veteran agent-rookie chemistry of the original (a concept that’s as old as the buddy movie), such as by having Liam Neeson paired with Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth’s Agent H is the best of both worlds. He's a veteran agent still relying on rakish charm and, more tellingly, prone to gaffes he tries to hide with that charm. The banter between Hemsworth and Thompson is natural and witty, and the filmmakers wisely downplay any signs of sexual flirtation between them.


The year 2019 has already brought a couple of disastrous attempts at franchise sequels and reboots (Godzilla: King of the Monsters being the most recent and the noisiest). Men in Black: International is not such a disaster. Instead, it’s merely an expensive, bland action movie whose central premise is now quaintly dated. The lackluster box office makes a sequel unlikely, which actually is a shame since the central characters could serve as the linchpin for a spinoff. But for now, Men in Black: International will be just like many of the aliens it portrays, an inconspicuous nonentity that quickly fades into the background.

In this featurette, Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, and Kumail Nanjani discuss making the film.

Read other reviews of Men in Black: International: 

Men in Black: International (2019) on IMDb