The last “Men in Black” movie came out seven years ago, and Sony thinks enough time has passed that they can comfortably relaunch the once-blockbuster franchise previously anchored by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The new agents this time around are Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, a pairing you might be familiar with if you saw “Thor: Ragnarok.” In supporting roles are Kumail Nanjiani, Rebecca Ferguson, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson and Rafe Spall. The new director is F. Gary Gray, fresh off a couple of hits with “Straight Outta Compton” and “The Fate of the Furious” (more famously known as “Fast & Furious 8”).
Situating the action outside of the United States for much of its running time, “Men in Black International” is the story of new hire Molly, or Agent M (Thompson), as she is given her first probationary assignment at the MIB office in London. There she hitches her wagon to superstar Agent H (Hemsworth), a career agent who’s become a bit complacent and reckless in recent years. He’s been accomplishing his missions, but always seemingly by the skin of his teeth, and usually with a fair amount of collateral property damage. His former partner Agent T (Neeson) is now his boss, and there’s a bit of friction in the office thanks to his antics, in particular with the by-the-book Agent C (Spall). There’s also an assassination and a conspiracy but they barely register.
While the casting is great, other crucial factors just aren’t up to snuff, particularly a lackluster plot and a script whose jokes are just ho-hum, never eliciting more than chuckle. Nanjiani does his best as Pawny, the film’s token “adorable little creature with an attitude,” but it still feels like they should’ve given the script to actual comedians to beef up the yuks.
Gray directs action well enough, but isn’t as adept at comedic timing, and while it would be nice to say the emotional beats land well, there really aren’t any to speak of, a sorely wasted opportunity with Ferguson as Agent H’s ex; with pathos that could be mined between Hemsworth and his mentor.
Neeson is cast in a role he’s played way too many times and practically phones it in, while there’s far too little of Emma Thompson, who shines in her few minutes of screentime. The biggest waste is Hemsworth and Thompson, who are charming and amiable enough, but don’t have material equal to their already-established chemistry.
Surprisingly, the special effects are pretty decent, which further begs the question why the script feels so underdeveloped. The plot is tired and predictable, the twist was telegraphed by the movie’s two introductory flashbacks (two!), the stakes aren’t felt, and nothing feels like there’s any real weight.
It’s not even consistent. Agent M’s first presented as an ace student whose exemplary skills make her the first person to seek out and successfully find the MIB, but later on she fumbles like a student who didn’t do her homework.
The only weird bright spot is a somewhat melancholy ending, a brave choice I would say was inspired if I didn’t suspect it was another result of various script changes. Ultimately this is a very promising cast, saddled with a mediocre script that really couldn’t afford to be. If they get another chance at bat, one hopes they put as much effort into the story as they did in making Hemsworth and Thompson look good (they admittedly look really good).