There’s a push and pull that happens during the summer movie season. How do you even review a summer release? Popcorn films are exactly that… tasty, butter-covered morsels. They taste great, but often are hardly filling. Are the reviews even important for this breed of feature? They are meant to sell cars, sell action figures and ultimately provide a brief and enjoyable respite from the summertime heat. Summertime means sequels, tentpoles and sci-fi. Men in Black: International combines all this together in one handy package. This is a summer movie in every way possible. What do you need to know before catching Men in Black: International?
The movie is the fourth installment in the sci-fi comedy franchise following a secretive government organization which controls and monitors the influx of extra-terrestrials in our country. This time out, the story follows Molly (Tessa Thompson). After watching the MIB “neuralize” her parents as a child, her singular focus becomes tracking down and joining the group. As a probationary member, she teams up with Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) in solving the death of an intergalactic Royal, which the resulting conflict has the potential to end life on Earth as we know it. The film costars Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Rafe Spall and Kumail Nanjiani. F. Gary Gray directs the movie from a script by Matt Holloway and Art Marcum.
As a character, Molly is a fun one. While the construction feels relatively generic, Tessa Thompson is the perfect person to take on this franchise (and step into Will Smith’s formidable shoes). Thompson’s star rose at lightning speed over the last year, and she gives a traditionally fierce and fun performance. In her hands, Molly (like Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok) stands in equality with her male co-stars. Her character is smart, fun and matches well with her formidable Hemsworthian co-star.
In fact, this is Molly’s story and it’s nice to see. There are some fun moments where the movie dives into this, the most notable being a delightful use of the female gaze as Agent H enters MIB Headquarters. Molly watches in awe with a female ET as H struts in (in slow motion even!) all in his Thor-like glory. Later in the second act, Agent H is sent in to “honey trap” an intergalactic arms dealer (Rebecca Ferguson) while Molly is tasked with the physical heavy lifting. Molly is very much the film’s lead character and Thompson continues to create unique and interesting women on screen.
Kumail Nanjiani also emerges as another standout in the talented cast. The stand-up comedian and podcaster hit Hollywood with a vengeance in 2017, securing not only his first starring role, but also a screenwriting credit and an Oscar nomination for his work on The Big Sick. He’s poised for another strong summer, taking on the character of “Pawny”, a Polly Pocket sized foot-soldier for an extra-terrestrial queen. Nanjiani’s performance is a highpoint in the film. The actor gives a dynamic vocal portrayal of the adorable character, absolutely selling much of the movie’s humor. His charisma sells the part, and there’s a lot more to see from Kumail Nanjiani.
Men in Black: International approaches the franchise with a sense of respect certain to excite fans of the series. Gray injects plenty of nostalgia into the movie, making sure to tie it firmly into the Men in Black universe. Some moments are of the “blink and you miss it” variety, others earn a bit more screentime. The reappearance of Frank the Pug is a particularly welcomed delight. Even the Cricket Gun re-enters popular consciousness. And remember… never push the red button. Each of these moments work together to make a fun the new release a summer popcorn film.
Unfortunately, the film isn’t able to capitalize is one major way. Holloway and Marcum’s script struggles under the weight of expectations. While Molly emerges as a clearly defined character, the movie struggles in its depiction of Agent H. There’s less of a clear idea who this man is. Yes, he’s a member of the MIB and they are supposed to be figments of our imaginations. However, he’s still a man. In fact, we even learn his name in the final act. However, there’s a particular plot point (spoilers!) which seems to stymie H, and ultimately, the writers can’t seem to wrap their heads around how to handle it. This inability to completely understand H has major consequences for the plot.
A substantial selling point in Men in Black: International is the re-teaming of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson after their stellar pairing in Thor: Ragnarok. It was their crisp and laser sharp chemistry which sold the Marvel superhero film. Unfortunately, their banter never quite reaches the same level as it does in Thor. Everything feels just a bit… off. The script repeatedly tells us that “Something is different” about H. He’s not the man he once was. Ultimately, the script needs the man he always was. The movie needs to sell this Hemsworth/Thompson pairing, but in the end while they are funny, both have been better together.
At the same time, the main story arc (which revolves around a mole in the MIB) is not ground-breaking. In fact, it’s generic. The right film goer can likely predict the end by the middle of the first act. Obviously, it’s difficult to dive any deeper into a plot point like this. So, no more spoilers.
Men in Black: International is a prototypical summer film release. This is a hyper-marketed, uber cross-promoted popcorn movie. There’s some definite laughs to make for an entertaining night out; however, keep your expectations in check.
Men in Black: International is in theaters around the country now.
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