Movie review: “Men in Black International” (2019)

“Men in Black International” (2019)


Running time: 115 minutes

Written by: Art Marcum and Matt Holloway

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

Featuring: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rebecca Ferguson, Rafe Spall, Laurent and Larry Bourgeois and Liam Neeson

M.I.B UK Branch Head: “Always remember: the universe has a way of leading you to where you’re supposed to be, at the moment you’re supposed to be there.”

The latest movie in the ‘Men in Black’ franchise arrived in cinemas recently in the form of “Men in Black International” (2019), with little fanfare, compared to others this Summer and left quickly the same way after a thud at the box office as well as indifference to critics and audiences. This was never a huge franchise but it was based on something not only fun, silly as well as full of action but the entire idea was based around superstar Will Smith, his relationship to not only the outside world but the pocket universe he inhabited with all sorts of fantastical ideas and in jokes, not forgetting his relationship with the great Tommy Lee Jones, and in the third movie Josh Brolin. While the first three movies were controlled by a small group, that being Smith, director Barry Sonnenfeld and the producers the results were very much up and down with the nadir of the series still remaining the first entry “Men in Black” (1997) which at the time cemented Smith a a global star, while also showing a new side to character actor Jones. While Sony was able to squeak out three movies that have all done at least acceptably well at te box office there was little appetite in any of the big three returning so the series has been rebooted to move its location from the US to the UK, recasting all the parts and changing the production team. Attempting something like this fifteen or twenty years ago may have seemed like something original but in 2019 it is just another unoriginal property trying to gain an audience with its youngish cast and hopefully a director who is able to add some originality. However, like so many movies lately all that happens is using a predictable story, average special effects, actors going through the motions or even revealing that they are out of their depth and finally nothing of any substance that audiences will actually appreciate. 

Surprisingly I had thought to have seen the very worst movie this year in the misfire “Hellboy” (2019) which to was a reboot of sorts but now I can confirm that this sci-fi/comedy is a complete disaster. While both movies share some of the same issues at least in “Hellboy” the actors were not only committed but offered performances that were in line with the movie they appeared in. Sure, the effects were not great, the story was a re-tread, albeit not a good one and the narrative was all over the place but you could at least see onscreen performances that were far better than the material. In “Men in Black International” however we have some actors who have all had recent success in Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson and Rebecca Ferguson who are all uniformly terrible unable to breathe any life into each of their own parts while adding little to the overall plot and narrative, showing singularly the difference between being a star and a character actor. The best way to illustrate this is the difference in performance only between Will Smith and Chris Hemsworth or even Tessa Thompson and Tommy Lee Jones, in one case you can see where actors know their parts, their roles and the story they are in. 

The other important aspect of “Men in Black International” international are the writers and director who have been recruited to reboot this franchise. A movie as is often the case begins and ends with the script, here it has been written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway who have some experience, unfortunately this comes in the form of some very ill-conceived movies in the form of the absolutely awful “Punisher: War Zone” (2008) and “Transformers: The Last Knight” (2017) both of which were essentially franchise killers, the same could possibly be said with “Men in Black International”. Their only real success was on the original MCU movie “Iron Man” (2007), however it is well worth noting this was a co-writing credit and they have never been asked back, something telling as successful writers have almost always been asked to return. In terms of director F. Gary Gray who has this decade been a part of one of the biggest studio franchises in the ‘Fast and Furious’ series with his entry “The Fate of the Furious” (2017) and an original biopic in “Straight Outta Compton” (2015) both of which were global successes the option to enter into sci-fi must have seemed like a great opportunity. To be fair there is nothing wrong or bad about his direction, he has obviously had a job to do and his executed it, unfortunately it is almost everything else that has been at fault which may come from his lack of control with bigger names in terms of stars and producers around him. There is no doubt that Gray has had a vast amount of experience with action and humour which does exist but not to a degree one would consider original, just cribbed from the first movie in the franchise.

“Men in Black International” begins in 1996 where Molly Wright witnesses her parents being neuralysed by agents of Men in Black while she helps an alien escape, avoiding neuralysation herself. Twenty-three years later, rejected from FBI and CIA due to her “delusions” regarding alien life, Molly tracks down an alien landing and follows MiB agents to their headquarters in New York City. Caught entering the agency, Molly makes an impression on Agent O, arguing that she has proven her skills and has no life outside her search for the agency. She is awarded probationary agent status as “Agent M” and assigned to the organisation’s London branch.

It may have seemed like a good idea to cast Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson after their perceived success in the MCU movie “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) where some seemed to think they had chemistry, however Thompson, who has proven herself to be a very good actress over a variety of different movies, seemed to have more actual chemistry with co-stars Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo. This movie proves two things, that Chris Hemsworth is a character actor at best, is no comedian and is unable to carry a movie by himself. Watching “Men in Black International” and the two leads is painful at best with neither of them able to take control offering performances that seem one note, beyond their abilities and they also seem miscast completely. Not only that but the rest of the cast do not come of well either with dialogue that is not only heavy handed, completely woke and out of place but forced so much that the entire movie is boring. Both Rebecca Ferguson and Rafe Spall seem to not know what movie they are in, with characterisations that are vanilla and bland, to be fair Ferguson is not helped but a terrible wig, shoddy CGI and it seems no make-up, she is left floundering at sea for her part. The two veterans and A listers in Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson are not in the movie enough or are just reciting lines from a certain ‘Star Wars’ prequel which may seemed like a cool thing to do but comes off as hammy in the very worst way imaginable. 

Of course, one of the major components of a movie like “Men in Black International” are the special effects of which a large portion are made up of CGI which like many Summer tentpole movies is overused and overdone here especially when interacting with real props, locations and of course the actors. Most of the effects stand out like a sore thumb which is not great especially for the audience who are taken out of the movie at every instant. As mentioned the treatment of Rebecca Ferguson in terms of her make-up and special effects is nothing short of deplorable. There are fully CGI characters contained within the narrative, they look not fully designed or realistic in terms of their own environments which in today’s movie going experience is unforgivable. A great example of a three-dimensional CGI character, for example would be Rocket from the MCU movies, there is nothing even close to that good here. It seems that the laziness within the script as well as the acting has made its way into the special effects and CGI which is something that could not have been said for the first three movies.

What I would have loved to have seen in this reboot firstly was an original script something that was not a knockoff of the first movie in all but name which cries out of laziness to get something into theatres. This movie is almost a beat for beat copy of that original movie except where there were consequences, a divide between the real world and the alien one, where there was some logic to the way the world actually works and a variety of other elements this has all been merged into one giant mess. There is also a large chuck of artificial wokeness that inhabits this movie with little subtly, it is almost like everyone involved is at pains to point out that there is woman involved, but in case you missed it women have been involved in all three movies. 

In my mind I could not recommend this mvie at all, in fact it is possibly the worst movie released this year which is saying something as we had “Hellboy” only a few months ago. Avoid this at all costs!

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