Director of modern classics Friday, Straight Outta Compton, and Furious 7, F. Gary Gray takes the helm from Barry Sonnenfeld in this latest mission of the Men (and Women) in Black. I include that parenthetical as a reference to the film, itself, which slips in exactly two references to the outdated name, but only in a tongue in cheek way that seems an attempt not to ruffle the feathers of easily-threatened fanboys. Better than nothing, I guess. Still, Gray is a fine choice to direct, being well-versed in the art of the action sequence as well as buddy comedies and ensembles.
Since, for Westerners, the first images that come to mind when we hear “international” are of European landmarks, the opening scene takes place at the Eiffel Tower. Chris Hemsworth’s Agent H and Liam Neeson’s High T prepare to confront a malicious alien entity called “The Hive”, but begin to encounter problems before we can view the standoff. Rewinding twenty years, a young girl named Molly (Mandeiya Flory) befriends a cute and fluffy (perfect for making toys out of) alien and sees her parents getting neuralyzed by the Men in Black in pursuit of her new, adorable companion. As a grown up, played by Tessa Thompson, Molly has studied intensely to be eligible for all branches of law enforcement, but recruiters at the FBI and CIA see her as a crackpot. Deducing the site of an alien crash landing by hacking into top secret telescope, she locates the MIB compound, impressing the US head, Agent O (Emma Thompson). Transferring to the UK as a probationary agent, she teams up with Agent H on what seems to be a routine assignment, but instead leads them into yet another international conspiracy concerning the aforementioned Hive.
With the exception of Men in Black 3, every entry in this franchise just seems like a rehash of the first one. While frustrating to many viewers and trying the patience of this critic, the creature effects still give the films reason enough to exist. Although Men in Black: International does not see the return of Rick Baker, the new Alien designs are mostly fun and sometimes terrifying. The Hive is probably the most frightening antagonist of the entire franchise, including Vincent D’Onofrio’s decrepit bug man.
Tessa Thompson excels in the role of the young and enthusiastic MIB Agent M. Her character’s rebelliousness and unorthodox methods ring of Will Smith’s Agent J, but even more so, her shrewdness and professionalism make her a predecessor of Tommy Lee Jones’s Agent K. Conversely, Chris Hemsworth’s Agent H assumes K’s role as a mentor while borrowing J’s immaturity and impulsivity. With this pairing, writers Art Marcum and Matt Holloway bring an appropriate level of nostalgia while not being too attached to the tone of the originals. Thompson has the room to play up the toughness of her character within the constraints of naïvete that come with being a neophyte. Conversely, Hemsworth gets to loosen up in his performance, relinquishing some of that weighty magnitude of his role as Thor in The Avengers (the best sight gag in the movie has Hemsworth fighting off an alien with a tiny hammer.)
All in all, Men in Black: International refrains from going too wild with its premise, and like the other sequels, won’t risk alienating the audience, no pun intended, with a less conventional narrative. For the creature effects and the chemistry between Hemsworth and Thompson, it’s worth seeing once. That is, if you’re wanting to get off this planet. And I wouldn’t blame you right now. | Nic Champion