‘I’ ON CULTURE
Unfortunately, Men in Black: International follows the trend of not really good or creative sequels that are tearing down movie franchises. I loved the first film for its wit and creativity. The second and third were also pretty good. The new one looks like it was written by people who thought they could coast along on a well-known franchise without doing anything more interesting than having one of the key agents being female.
The film begins with top Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) and his boss, head of London station High T (Liam Neeson) — get the joke in there? — preparing to battle “the hive.” Then it goes back 20 years and little Molly meets an adorable alien, helps it and is not “neuralized” (for those who don’t remember, that means getting your memory wiped). As a result, although she is brilliant, the adult Molly (Tessa Thompson) is considered a nut for believing in aliens. She talks her way into MIB headquarters and talks her way into being recruited because she tells boss Agent O (Emma Thompson), “I have no life.”
She becomes Agent M and is sent to the troubled London office. She talks her way into partnering with Agent H, known because he and High T beat the hive with “their wits and M70 weapons.” H is more than a bit of a playboy and lets a key alien be killed by a pair of alien assassins (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois). The alien whispers to M just before he dies that the London office has a mole. That leads to some action in Marrakesh and the discovery of the last survivor of a race that basically lives in a chess universe, a Queen’s Pawn, quickly nicknamed Pawny (voice of Kumail Nanjiani) who decided M is his new queen. There are more fights, eventually ending in what is supposed to be the big battle and a satisfactory, in terms of the simplified plot, conclusion.
There are many things wrong with the movie. The plot is almost a paint by numbers kind of thing. When little Molly saves the cute alien, you know the adult M will meet him somewhere down the line. It took me about five minutes to figure out who the bad guy really was despite a pathetic attempt to toss mud on a different character. Even worse, there was no chemistry between the main characters. In the film, H has sex with a tentacled alien and a frumpy arms dealer (Rebecca Ferguson) with three arms. But sexy, adorable M is treated more like a kid sister. When Hemsworth and Thompson were together in Thor: Ragnarok there was an underlying sexual tension. Here there was none at all, and I doubt it had much to do with the fact that the two were basically dressed alike. But since the ads showed both together, there should have been at least a hint of a romance.
Even the special effects were not all that special. It was clear the scenes in Paris and London were not shot there. Marrakesh could have been any third-world city, just a lot of narrow streets. Most of the aliens are clearly people wearing prosthetics and masks. The two dangerous ones actually look human most of the time. There is an actual CGI one for the final battle. But for an audience that sees so many really spectacular movies, it was clear this was done on the cheap.
The acting was non-inspired. Hemsworth was great looking, of course. But he has been far more comic as Thor than here. Mostly, he was just going along with things. Neeson and Emma Thompson in the smaller roles handled them easily. Clearly, they are professionals ready to work for easy paychecks. Rafe Spall was appropriately nasty. The best acting was done by Tessa Thompson. She managed to be both vulnerable and tough and handled her comedy bits, usually paired with Pawny for the best humor, really well. I really hope she gets a chance to be in better films.
Too many sequels have just been weak this past year and done poorly. The last two Star Wars did not do very well, particularly the Han Solo one. Godzilla was really weak, and last week’s X-Men was dead on arrival. The scary thing is that Hollywood seems to depend on these major franchises for real money, and they are falling to pieces. Filmmakers might need to get creative again, but I won’t hold my breath.
Skip this one until it’s on television.