“Men in Black: International” doesn’t deserve to call itself a “Men in Black” movie. Sure it’s about a mismatched pair of secret agents (Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth) who wear black suits and sunglasses and police space aliens and wipe people’s memories with a flashing neuralyzer, but it lacks the heart that gave the first three “Men in Black” movies their identity. And I’m not just saying that because we have two new leads instead of the legendary team-up of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, I would have been fine with any two leads as long as they had good chemistry. I’m saying that because these new characters and the story surrounding them are not funny, exciting, or interesting.
Agent M (Thompson) is the new kid at MIB’s New York City branch, having pursued a spot in the mysterious organization since childhood. Her boss (Emma Thompson, no relation to Tessa) feels that her talents could be more immediately useful in London. So M is off to a world she doesn’t understand (the steering wheel is on the right over there!) to do a job she doesn’t fully understand, where she has to work with beings that she definitely doesn’t understand.
One such hard-to-understand being is her new partner H (Hemsworth). He’s a human, that part she can understand. But she doesn’t understand why the reckless slob has such a high standing in the organization. Apparently a few years ago he and now-head T (Liam Neeson) defeated a powerful enemy called The Hive using nothing more than their wits and a couple of Series 7 de-atomizers. It would seem that the “wits” component has since diminished in H, and he now succeeds only through bribery and dumb luck, creating headaches for T and the justifiably grouchy C (Rafe Spall).
M and H’s first mission together is a simple bodyguarding assignment for an alien royal. But the mission gets botched with the return of The Hive. They’re back and have their sights set on conquering Earth. Suspecting that The Hive has a mole in MIB, M and H go rogue and travel to Morocco, where they find more dead royals, discover that they’re in possession of a weapon of mass destruction, get in a flying motorcycle chase, burgle H’s multi-armed arms dealer ex-girlfriend (Rebecca Ferguson), and have other adventures typical of this franchise. Along the way they take on the services of ineffective protector Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani). My only strong opinion of this movie is that Pawny is incredibly annoying.
Most of the film’s humor comes from either alien weirdness or M and H bickering with each other. As far as the aliens, there is literally a universe of possibilities, but the film rarely goes for anything more ambitious than “they sure look funny when they’re amorous, huh?” As for M and H, I won’t go so far as to say they have zero chemistry because I think it’s scientifically impossible to make these two actors unlikeable, but they already teamed up in “Thor: Ragnarok” and they were much better there.
I loved 1997’s “Men in Black” so much that I bought it on video. This was at a time when the number of movies I owned (as opposed to rented) didn’t reach double digits. But I liked the creative aliens and gadgets, the funny script, and the general sharpness of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones so much that I wanted to have access to them at a moment’s notice. Compared to that movie, or even one of its less-inspired sequels, “Men in Black: International” is staggeringly ineffective. Nothing outside of Pawny is truly terrible, but this is a film that is all too satisfied to merely be “not truly terrible.” An easy joke would be to say that I wish I could be neuralyzed and forget this movie, but this movie is perfectly capable of being forgettable on its own.
“Men in Black: International” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material. Its running time is 114 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.