13th Jun2019

‘Men in Black International’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rafe Spall, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois | Written by Matt Holloway, Art Marcum | Directed by F. Gary Gray

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Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson attempt to replicate their Thor: Ragnarok chemistry for this fourth instalment in the 22 year-old Men In Black franchise. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, the script and direction leave them floundering, resulting in the series’ weakest entry to date.

After a brief prologue in which Agent H (Hemsworth) and London division boss High T (Liam Neeson) are seen fending off an alien attack at the Eiffel Tower, the film cuts to 1996 for a second prologue, in which young Molly (Mandeiya Flory) witnesses an MIB team neuralyse her parents (i.e. wipe their memories) after an alien encounter in New York. Cut to the present day, where a now grown-up Molly (Thompson) puts on a black suit and just walks into Men In Black HQ in the hopes of landing a job.

Fortunately, division boss Agent O (Emma Thompson, reprising her role from the third film) is impressed with Molly’s chutzpah, so she sends her to London on a probationary assignment, where she’s teamed with Agent H and tasked with protecting visiting alien dignitary Vungus the Ugly. However, something goes wrong, sending Molly (now Agent M) and Agent H to London, Italy and Marakesh in pursuit of a deadly super-weapon.

This is the first film in the series not to be directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, which explains why it’s nearly two hours long, instead of Sonnenfeld’s customary 90-odd minutes. This time round the director is F. Gary Gray (The Fate of the Furious) and it’s immediately apparent that he doesn’t have the same feel for the material. Aside from some alarming pacing issues (at one point they fix a sky-cycle in the desert in what feels like real time), he has no comic timing and the poorly staged action sequences are a mess of tedious CGI.

However, Men in Black International‘s biggest problem is the script, which is completely lacking in both wit and invention. Aside from being dull, it’s also poorly executed – for example, a key plot twist is immediately guessable, to the point where it feels both lazy and insulting.

The script also fails to deliver any big laughs, frequently resorting to a will-this-do approach of rehashing gags from the previous films. (The screen of famous aliens gag is particularly annoying this time round). Even Thompson and Hemsworth’s chemistry fails to deliver, largely because the script can’t seem to find the right comic rhythm – they’re stuck somewhere between respect, rivalry and attraction, but none of those elements are clearly defined, so the relationship never quite gels the way it should.

There’s a similar problem with Hemsworth’s performance. His charisma, charm and comic timing are proven commodities, but it never quite comes together here, so every scene feels like a lost opportunity. Thompson, for her part, does the best she can with what she’s given, but that really doesn’t amount to very much.

In fairness, there are a handful of fun bits that mean Men in Black International isn’t a total disaster. One highlight involves Rebecca Ferguson showing up as H’s rainbow-wigged, three-armed ex, Riza (although she’s sadly under-used and disappears after two scenes), while Kumail Nanjiani more or less steals the film with his voice turn as tiny alien sidekick Pawny, who Molly rescues from a chessboard. Basically, if there are any funny lines in the film at all, they’re entirely down to him.

Speaking of alien creatures, if you’re planning to see the film out of nostalgia for fan favourites Frank the Pug and the Worm Guys (both heavily featured in the marketing), then you may want to reconsider, as they both make only the briefest of token appearances.

In short, Men in Black International is disappointment on a galactic scale, even by the standards of previous Men In Black movies. Fortunately, it makes so little impact that it acts as its own self-neuralyser and you’ll have forgotten it before you even leave the cinema.

** 2/5

Men in Black International  is in UK cinemas from tomorrow, June 14th.

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