Hoping to usher in a new generation of fans to the otherworldly franchise, the powers that be have swapped out Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in favor of in-demand actors Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson to play members of the infamous government agency who set out to contain the latest alien threat in “Men in Black: International,” a fitfully fun franchise reboot that never quite captures the dazzle of the original, costarring Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson.
Replacing the “MIB” trilogy director Barry Sonnenfeld with F. Gary Gray, who has proved his versatility in films ranging from “Friday” and “The Italian Job” to most recently “Straight Outta Compton” and “The Fate of the Furious,” this latest entry in the popular franchise does have some memorable moments that deliver the winning mixture of buddy comedy and intergalactic action that made the original trilogy such a hit. That said, the screenplay by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, while introducing some captivating new characters of both the human and alien variety, and cooking up some satisfying action sequences, feels too episodic and never quite delivers dramatically. And while audiences will mostly enjoy the latest lead agents and their playful banter as they go about their alien adventures, the pairing is a far cry from the unbeatable odd couple chemistry of the franchise’s former stars. “Men in Black: International” does just enough to satisfy audience expectations, but never elicits the magic of the previous installments.
“International” centers on a character named Molly (Tessa Thompson), who, as a child, was exposed to an otherworldly being and developed a lifelong fascination with these creatures and the agents in black suits who came to neutralize them. Now grown, Molly’s obsession with alien life on earth has only amplified, and she acts on that obsession when, one day, she follows some MIB agents to the New York headquarters of their secretive government agency, and impresses veteran Agent O (Emma Thompson) enough to be invited to join the team and given the moniker Agent M.
For her first assignment, M receives quite the intergalactic introduction when she is paired with the legendary Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), who once saved the world “armed with just his wits and his De-Atomizer,” to show a royal alien named Vungus a night out on the town. Little do M and H know, Vungus is concealing a weapon capable of destroying entire planets, and when the royal alien is suddenly attacked by an aggressive species known as The Hive – embodied by two deadly twin assassins – the agents suspect an inside job. Traveling the world from London and Italy to Morocco and Paris, the dedicated agents must locate The Hive’s twin assassins and expose the mole before the deadly weapon is used to wipe out the planet.
For his first foray into “MIB” territory, director F. Gary Gray proves himself, much like he did with “The Fate of the Furious,” a capable helmer of a big blockbuster franchise film, displaying a lightness of touch in his handling of this particular brand of action comedy. However, despite Gray’s capable direction of the extraterrestrial material, the script by “Transformers: The Last Night” screenwriters Art Marcum and Matt Holloway never quite rises to the heights of previous installments, settling on a convoluted storyline whose stakes are often blurred by otherworldly action and incorporating new cuddly creatures into the proceedings.
As the new faces of the franchise, Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson do their best to capture the buddy cop dynamic that made the Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones pairing such a treat, and while the two do share some chemistry, it pales in comparison to the original trilogy’s famous odd couple. Still, the two talented actors play well off each other, and engage in some memorable verbal sparring when they aren’t hopscotching the globe to fulfill their otherworldly obligations. Although the supporting acting mostly services the material without drawing too much attention to itself, Liam Neeson is a welcome presence as the veteran agent High T, who runs the London branch and may be more than meets the eye, while Kumail Nanjiani is downright adorable in the voice role of Pawny, a member of an alien population that disguises themselves as chess pieces.
“Men in Black: International” delivers amusing alien action and playful odd couple banter, but it’s a far cry from the original.
By Lucas Mirabella
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material.
Running Time: 114 minutes