Review: Not all sequels are worthless but 'Men in Black: International' sure is

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Aim that neuralyzer right at my head, people, because Men in Black: International is an experience to forget. The movie takes everything special about Men in Black—a uniquely weird universe, humor running from highbrow to lowbrow, the incomparable odd couple chemistry of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones—and waters it all down to something totally unremarkable.

MIB: International functions as a soft reboot, so our old pals J and K don’t show up in the flesh. Instead we’re introduced to reckless hunk Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) and newbie Agent M (Tessa Thompson), a bookworm whose childhood run-in with the Men in Black has sent her on a lifelong quest to join the secret organization. After sneaking into MIB headquarters in New York, she’s quickly welcomed into their ranks on probationary terms and shipped off to the London office. An intergalactic threat arrives shortly thereafter, so H & M (come on) team up to save the world.

The script comes by way of Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, whose previous work on Transformers: The Last Knight and Punisher: War Zone should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. Put nicely, MIB: International is very rough around the edges—but more than anything it’s conventional to the point of blandness. The plot focuses on an extraterrestrial MacGuffin, this shiny jagged rock with a true purpose as predictable as the agency mole storyline with which it converges. Throw in a few obvious red herrings, an unnecessary romantic subplot, the weirdest dance sequence/assassination attempt maybe ever, and an “I know you’re still in there” climax, and what you’ve got is as needlessly complex as it is uninspired.

What’s so unfortunate (and even more baffling) is how much potential this franchise continues to squander. The series suggests an infinite cosmos, and yet everything here feels small and done to death, qualities International makes all the more noticeable because it retcons MIB history, adding more backstory, more offices, and more aliens on Earth. In the face of all that more, we get way less substance.

And the problems don’t end with the story. The jokes are few, far between, and lackluster. Gags are either callbacks to the first picture or rely entirely on Hemsworth and Thompson to do the heavy lifting. We know from Thor: Ragnarok that both actors have comedic skills to match their action chops, so it’s easy to lay the blame elsewhere. I mean, you know there’s a problem when Kumail Nanjiani can’t even get laughs—his painfully unfunny Pawny character gives Jar Jar Binks a run for his annoying-alien money.

Hollywood catches flak for over-relying on sequels, remakes, and reboots; but when you watch MIB: International with Ragnarok, the recent Endgame, or even the upcoming Toy Story 4 in mind, it’s clear that the issue isn’t franchises in and of themselves. Problems arise because certain studios depend on formulas and are unwilling to try different things, which is funny because it’s that experimentation that made Men in Black succeed in the first place. MIB: International is a miss, but it didn’t have to be. You’re better off just revisiting the original.

Men in Black: International
Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani
Rated: PG-13
Theater: Area theaters, now showing