Twenty-two years after the original and seven years after the third installment, “Men in Black” is back. Each sequel or spinoff banked on the goodwill generated in the original 1997 movie with Agent J, the spirited and street-smart fresh prince played by Will Smith, and Agent K, the dry, authoritative, monotone veteran played by Tommy Lee Jones.
This current chapter was intended as a vehicle for Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, the “22 Jump Street” team, but when plans fell through, the studio chose the bantering team of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson from “Thor: Ragnorak” (2017) and “Avengers: Endgame” (2019). As Agent H and Agent M, respectively, the stars are likable and comfortable with each other, but never generate the romantic sparks that the script hints.
The audience came prepared to enjoy the premise and the legacy. So, with two stars from “The Avengers” and the director of “The Fate of the Furious” (F. Gary Gray), we expected a genuine blockbuster. This $100 million investment is fun and entertaining, but just doesn’t radiate the same charm and excitement as the original.
However, if viewed as a standalone movie, which is difficult to do being the fourth installment, it has its own goofy moments with numerous cute and creative alien creatures, flashy CGI action and clever one-liners, especially from the voice of Kumail Nanjiani, as Pawny, a walking, talking pawn from a chessboard. Therefore, it is an improvement over “Men in Black II” (2002) and “Men in Black 3” (2012).
The strong supporting cast includes Emma Thompson as Agent O, Liam Neeson as Agent High T and Rebecca Ferguson, as Riza, the multi-armed temptress. The MiB team has always protected Earth from the scum of the universe, but now they must tackle their biggest threat to date: a mole in their own MiB organization. They must also fight a duo of bad guys that have a creepy resemblance to Jesse Smollett’s “attackers.”
As Agent M, the “Woman in Black,” we are treated to her backstory as a child with a close encounter. This event inspires her to discover and join the secret MiB organization. This wanna-be lists her qualifications that include, “I have nothing and nobody.” Agent O approves, “Your life is suitably tragic, but you really think a black suit is going to solve all your problems?” Agent M responds, “No, but it looks damn good on you!”
Titled as “International,” the action moves through New York, London, Paris and Marrakech. But, unlike the “Mission Impossible” series, there doesn’t seem to be much point, value, or reasoning for the changes in venue. There are some interesting action scenes that keep your interest, but just don’t pop like so many we’ve seen lately.
We did appreciate the character development, especially with Agent M, who clearly is committed to the organization she will eventually join. The chemistry amongst the cast appears sincere and sporadic humor is welcomed in each scene. In one fight scene, Hemsworth picks up a pint-sized mallet and looks baffled at how puny it is (compared to Thor’s hammer). Nanjiani, as the voice of Pawny, is brilliant, even though the character is no bigger than a Smurf-type elf.
“Men in Black: International” is 114 minutes and rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, language and suggestive material. It’s nice to see some girl power in any movie. Thompson doesn’t make the same impact as Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel, but does have a presence. Upon victory, Agent H announces, “We are the Men in Black!” Then, corrects himself, “We are the Men and Women in Black!”
Agent High T reassures his team, “The universe has a way of leading you to the where you’re supposed to be, at the moment you’re supposed to be there.” Maybe the fourth time for this series is where the franchise is supposed to be. Then again, maybe the MiB team will just hit the neuralizer and give others a chance to fight the scum of the universe.
Ron’s Rating: C Leigh’s Rating: B+