It’s hard to believe that the first MEN IN BLACK film, starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, came out 22 years ago. It seems like yesterday! What’s harder to believe, though, is that Hollywood can’t seem to let this franchise rest in peace after two disappointing sequels in 2002 and 2012. The reason why may be either that the three films made a combined US$1.655 billion at the box office or it may simply be that Hollywood has run out of new ideas. Whatever the reason, MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL should finally put the nail in the franchise’s coffin. What we have here, Houston, is a failure to relaunch.
This week’s sequel-spinoff-reboot that no one asked for (other than the suits at Sony-Columbia, that is) has arrived and it’s about as memorable as, let’s say, your mind would be if you had just been hit by a blast from a neuralyzer. On paper, MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL has all the ingredients to be a hit – the re-teaming of Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, who had great chemistry together in THOR: RAGNAROK; the return of Emma Thompson (BRIDGET JONES’S BABY; SAVING MR. BANKS), Liam Neeson (WIDOWS; SILENCE), Steven Spielberg as the film’s executive producer, and F. Gary Gray (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) directing – but MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL is as exciting as day-old Cream of Wheat. Not one joke hits the mark – scratch that. The film does have one joke that might have elicited a chuckle had it not been pipped to the post with the release of X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX last week. That film had the same joke.
MIB: INTERNATIONAL begins 20 years ago when seven-year-old Molly witnesses her parents getting neuralysed by a pair of agents after her father sees an alien. Molly sees the alien too and she helps it get away. As a result of that close encounter, Molly makes it her life’s mission to join that secretive organisation of black-suited agents. Fast forward to the present and adult Molly (Tessa Thompson) tracks down the MIB headquarters in New York and asks to be hired. Agent O (Emma Thompson) agrees to take Molly on as a trainee agent, giving her the name of M, and immediately assigns her to MIB’s London branch, which is run by T, or “High T” [eye roll] (Neeson), as his agents call him. T’s star performer is H (Hemsworth), who helped neutralise the threat from The Hive, a Borg-like alien that takes over bodies for an entity, three years earlier. Now, The Hive has come back to Earth, and T pairs M with H to protect an alien prince who seems to be The Hive’s target.
Whatever chemistry Thompson and Hemsworth had in THOR: RAGNAROK has been vapourised here. Yeah, yeah, we get that their characters are supposed to be like chalk and cheese, with H definitely being the cheese here, but the playful banter between them rings hollow. Added to that is a story that runs short on substance, a twist that can be seen from as far away as Alpha Centauri and uninspired direction, and you have one… dull… comedy. The film’s only bright spot – barely – is a tiny alien named Pawny (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani, THE BIG SICK), but a competent director would have let Nanjiani go to town with the one-liners.
With any luck, the “three strikes and you’re out” rule will apply here and we’ll finally be able to bury this franchise. Somehow I doubt we’ve seen the last of M and H though. Someone neuralyse me – please!
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, June 14th back at the regular time of 8:30 am HK time!
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