The chemistry that Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson forged so effortlessly in Thor: Ragnarok was an unexpected treat in 2017, begging the question “why haven’t we paired these two before?” Unfortunately, Men in Black: International is all too happy to oblige us the answer.
For some, that chemistry must have felt like a well of franchise potential that would never run dry. Sadly, the filmmakers of Men in Black: International seem to have taken that as a challenge, proving that in Hollywood, no depth of cynicism remains unplumbed, no resource unplundered. Make no mistake, this is a naked attempt at riding on the coattails of goodwill for Thompson and Hemsworth. It is dull, cynical and utterly mirthless, regardless of being presented in its native ratio or blown up to IMAX.
The problems start early, in the film’s prelude. An acrobatic bit set in the Eiffel Tower’s lift apparently forgets that the eponymous men in black are not superheroes, while an abrupt cut from Paris pretty much gives away the final act twist (though calling such a tired, obvious story beat a twist gives it undue credit). We’re then shunted into a flashback in which a young Molly (Mandeiya Flory, later played by Thompson) rescues a baby alien on the run. It’s an adequate if perfunctory introduction to our protagonist, but the scene is so sloppily written and edited that it ends with the MiB arriving on the scene, explaining everything to Molly’s parents before wiping their memories with the ubiquitous neuralisers and leaving without looking for the creature they supposedly arrived to capture.
There’s a carelessness to almost everything in the film – scenes and gags arrive with little set up and no payoff, one inconsequential non-sequitur leading to another, endlessly. The feeling of watching Men in Black: International is like being trapped in some sort of time paradox: somehow it feels mind-numbingly slow and hyperactively impatient at the same time.
To say that the characters are paper thin would be to do the writing too great a service: they are more like the shadows cast by cardboard cutouts; ciphers where characters ought to be, warped into fitting whatever cockamamie scenario the script contrives. We are told that Thompson’s Agent M is a hardworking genius yet we see little evidence of either, while Hemsworth’s Agent H flits from skeezy pimp, superhero, and bro-tastic slacker as the script scrambles around looking for a semblance of recognisable human psychology.
At about the halfway mark, the film finally admits that it has given up. Enter Pawnee (Kumail Nanjaini): the most cosmically annoying CGI sidekick since Jar Jar Binks. In a way we should be grateful for his arrival – the mask his finally slipped revealing the dead eyed, film-by-spreadsheet face underneath.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell