Men in Black: International

I'd say that you can't make a Men in Black movie without Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, but obviously you can because Men in Black: International exists. Maybe it would be more accurate to say you can't make a good MIB movie without them. This is the first unadulterated bomb of the 2019 summer season – a joyless, unfunny, ill-conceived mess that's painful to sit through.

Tessa Thompson plays Agent M, a new recruit who spent her whole life seeking out the organization after seeing some agents, plus an alien, as a child. She's assigned to go to London to work with Agent H (Chris Hemsworth). Leader Agent High T (Liam Neeson) has discovered that there's a traitor within the agency, and they're supposed to fish out who it is. What follows is a needlessly complex, bordering on incoherent, plot that finds M and H encountering a tiny chessboard alien (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), a multi-armed woman, and the most powerful weapon in the universe.

One of the big things that contributed to the success of the original Men in Black films was the offbeat chemistry between Smith and Jones. The latter was cranky and no-nonsense, the former funky and wisecracking. Such odd-couple pairing often proved hilarious, as their individual personalities alternately clashed and melded. Thompson and Hemsworth are both extremely charismatic performers. They aren't bad by any means, but their characters don't offer anything interesting as a team. No spark exists between them, so watching them interact offers no entertainment.

Original director Barry Sonnenfeld also had a distinct, almost cartoonish way of shooting his MIB pictures. The camera angles and movements were exaggerated, giving the alien-based plots an extra kooky kick and milking the laughs for all they were worth. New director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) shoots MIB: International like every other action film out there. It's all fast cuts and quick edits. Consequently, the feel of the movie is heavy where it should be light, rushed when it should be allowing the audience to savor the weirdness of the humans-vs-aliens scenarios.

The screenplay, which is filled with witless jokes, was written by Matt Holloway and Art Marcum. They fail to make the story of the search for the traitor compelling. Men in Black: International has plot developments that come out of nowhere, make little or no sense, and don't congeal into a satisfying whole. As for the reveal of the guilty party, it's literally the most obvious twist in the world, easily guessed by anyone who's ever seen a movie. Any movie.

Thompson and Hemsworth do what they can with the material, although that only goes so far in spite of their inherent likability. The film gets so many things wrong that it starts to become irritating about halfway through. The current Hollywood mindset is to try to keep franchises going, even after the key creative people in the originals walk away. Men in Black: International is perfect example of why this can be a terrible idea.

out of four

Men in Black: International is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material. The running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.