MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: F. GARY GRAY / SCREENPLAY: MATT HOLLOWAY, ART MARCUM / STARRING: CHRIS HEMSWORTH, TESSA THOMPSON, KUMAIL NANJIANI / RELEASE DATE: 21ST OCTOBER
In 1997, shortly after Batman & Robin sunk the comic book genre down to new lows, director Barry Sonnenfeld and screenwriter Ed Solomon teamed up to deliver Men in Black. Based on the limited comic series by Lowell Cunningham, Men in Black defied all expectations, proving to be a smash hit both commercially and critically, as well as catapulting Will Smith into mega-movie star status. The success of the first film inevitably led to franchise potential and, since then, we've had Men in Black II (which is up there with Ghostbusters II and Highlander II: The Quickening as one of the worst sequels ever made) and Men in Black 3 which, though not great, was at least a perfectly serviceable sequel.
Now, we have Men in Black: International, a sequel that attempts to move away from both Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, expand the organisation, and have new characters steer the ship in a new direction. All of this sounds like the sequel a lot of people have been wanting ever since the first film, so it has to be good, right? Wrong.
Men in Black: International is a soulless sequel / reboot that adds nothing new, fresh or exciting, failing to comprehend what it was that made the franchise so successful to begin with. F. Gary Gray was brought on board to direct this film and yet there's nothing to differentiate this from the films that Barry Sonnenfeld made, lacking any of the style and pace that made Gray's previous flicks like Friday, Set It Off or Straight Outta Compton engrossing watches.
Imagery and concepts are repeated wholesale from the first film, including a new recruit teaming up with an experienced agent, a mystery that involves a famous landmark, an appearance by Frank the Pug, and so forth, making this movie feel more formulaic as a result. Even when our "plucky" agents are globetrotting around the world, uncovering the larger mystery and getting involved in plenty of action-packed shenanigans along the way, it's still a chore to watch because the characters and plot are both uninteresting and lifeless, plus it lacks the original's bite and edge.
There was a dark griminess to the original that helped make it stand out, but here everything feels very polished, sleek and bright, looking too glossy for its own good. There's nothing even unique, creative or threatening about the aliens involved, coming across like your bog-standard generic creatures that you have seen plenty times before on film or TV, while the CGI ranges from passable to pathetic, especially during the film's final battle sequence which looks a big budget cartoon.
The biggest problem of all, however, is the humour. Every single joke fails massively, sometimes feeling forced, other times just straight up embarrassing and annoying, resulting in a deeply unfunny experience. You should probably expect more sigh-inducing groans than belly-laughs here, people!
In terms of performances, Tessa Thompson is easily the standout and comes out of it with most of her dignity intact, while Emma Thompson is highly watchable in the few brief scenes she's in. While Chris Hemsworth has good chemistry with Thompson (especially after having worked with her on both Marvel's Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame), he suffers badly since he bears most of the execrable comedy on his shoulders, similar to his comedy relief role in 2016's Ghostbusters.
Once again, Sony has proved how much they can sink a franchise, not learning a single lesson after Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man duology and the 2016 Ghostbusters remake. This is a paint-by-numbers movie that has no unique style or vibe of its own, nor does it have any creative juices pumped into its veins in order to enliven this series once again.
Men in Black: International didn't do well at the box office, and the reason why is clear. It's not the worst film to have been released this year, but it is down as there as one of 2019's biggest bombs. Congratulations Men in Black II, you just found your new best friend!