How could a movie about a secret organization who deals with aliens and alien technology possibly be boring…especially when that same films takes two stars with great comedic chops and previously demonstrated chemistry? It would take something special to take a compelling premise and solid cast and give the world something bland and mundane. Well, Director F. Gary Gray and writers Matt Holloway and Art Marcum’s new film Men in Black: International (2019) is exactly that.
Men in Black: International demonstrates that even aliens can be boring
Molly (Tessa Thompson) has been determined to become one of those agents in a black suit that erased her parents memory her whole life. She takes the moniker of Agent M on a probationary period and is sent to England to assist in a case there. M sets her sights on Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) as her mentor, and the two work together to unravel the murder of an alien that they suspect is a result of a mole in the Men in Black organization.
There are several scenes that ultimately don’t do enough to be either exciting or intriguing in this film, but there was a moment early on that demonstrated a major problem. Agent H and Agent M meet Vungus (Kayvan Novak) at an alien dance club. The very idea of an alien dance club pops a billion images into my head. It should be a crazy scene full of flashing lights, varieties of species, interesting music, and should just feel fun and overwhelming. Instead, the people at the club look even more bored than I was feeling at this early moment in the film. Dance clubs inherently should be energetic, and this one sucks the life out of the movie.
The film also suffers from poor villains: two twin aliens that are nameless (played by Laurent and Larry Bourgeois), who demonstrate crazy power but choose to advance at a snail’s pace. There is no clear reason why these two don’t just take out the MIB directly at any point, other than to serve the plot. At one point, they literally melt the ground around the agents proving that they could have easily killed them at any moment if not for the protection of the script and star power. While I don’t expect the agents in a movie like this to die, I still need to at least believe that they could. In the first film, when Agent K yells “Eat me” at the Bug – and then it eats him – I truly believed he was a goner. Granted, I was a kid at the time, but still – the stakes in the first film felt real, and grounded the film’s story in a way that kept me on board. This movie mostly has unclear stakes and a series of MacGuffin’s that move the plot forward, while never really being interesting.
Hemsworth and Thompson both give a solid performance. They still demonstrate a sense of chemistry between them, but their partner dynamic never really makes sense. Agent M is shown to be extremely intelligent and obsessed with alien content, but her character still seems way too smart at moments – especially when compared to Agent H. M often feels like she is the veteran and H is the screw-up who manages to bulldoze his way through things, looking like a hero by sheer luck. Then, the film throws in a miniature alien chess piece named Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani) who is supposed to add some comedic relief, but mostly feels tacked on. Ultimately, it is hard to fathom how putting these two proven talents manages to not work, but it really doesn’t in MIB: International.
It seems that the success of the first film was lightning in a bottle. Men in Black still holds up, and it’s understandable why Hollywood would think it could be a franchise. The possibilities for stories should be as endless as the Universe itself, but the writing since the first just pulls tropes from either Sci-fi movies or buddy cop films that never really utilize the premise. Instead, the movies just repackage previous ideas in alien wrappings that feel bland and uninspired. Men in Black: International earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.