It’s doubtful that any paying customer actually ordered another Men in Black movie. Though the 1997 original was a fizzy delight, MiB 2 and 3 defined meh. Still, if you’re going to revamp the franchise without Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones to ride herd on the aliens among us, smart move to bring in Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. The two delivered genuine comic spark to the party that was Thor: Ragnorak and they haven’t lost their touch. Hemsworth and Thompson also look great suited up like Reservoir Dogs and armed with stun guns to blast alien scum.
Men in Black: International switches up the New York City locale of the original to globe-trot exotically but meaninglessly from London to Marrakesh, Naples and Paris. The plot, strenuously cooked up by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, seems flimsier than ever. And director F. Gary Gray (Straight Out of Compton) — in for the first trilogy’s Barry Sonnenfeld — exhausts himself trying to steer this ship without a rudder.
Hemsworth and Thompson, who has the makings of a major star, do the heavy lifting. And, miraculously, they keep it light, breezy and watchable. Memorable? That’s asking too much. Hemsworth, last seen as Fat Thor in Avengers: Endgame, plays the dashing, James Bond-ish Agent H, a merry prankster with no scruples about breaking company rules, including indulging in inter-species sex. But he has the support of MiB honcho, High T (Liam Neeson), who bonded with H in the field. By contrast, Thompson is estrogen in a testosterone universe. We meet her as Molly, a child in Brooklyn who has dreamed of joining the Men in Black ever since she had a girlhood close encounter with a baby alien (of course he’ll show up later, all grown up). It’s Molly who talks herself into a probationary position with Agent O (the ever-terrific Emma Thompson). “Don’t start,” says O wryly when Molly — now known as Agent M — asks: Why it isn’t Men and Women in Black? Times Up and all that.
M is wittily appalled at H’s sexist antics, but the attraction is there just the same. Don’t discount the exhilarating kick of watching stars shine even within a dim-bulb screenplay. But first H and M have problems to solve: There’s a mole in MiB — is it smarmy Agent C (Rafe Spall)? Yawn. And what about those lethal alien siblings, played by the French hip-hop artists and Beyoncé backup dancers Larry and Laurent Bourgeois, known as Les Twins? Crucially, there’s a doomsday weapon (isn’t there always?) that must be found and destroyed. H’s former squeeze Riza, played by Rebecca Ferguson, currently has possession. And since she’s an arms dealer with limbs like an octopus, she’s a formidable foe.
Despite all the contrivances, the result comes off as curiously flat. It helps that the agents have an ally in tiny alien Pawny — he’s the size of a chess piece and hilariously voiced by Kumail Nanjiani. Pawny is fun to have around when the going gets stuck in first gear. The makeup and special effects departments work overtime to dazzle us, but the aliens are never the terrors they once were. Have we reached the creature saturation point? Looks like. Though the film feels born to be mild, there are still pleasures to be had. The effervescent biplay between Hemsworth and Thompson keeps us happily in the game. Whatever Men in Black: International lacks in originality and oomph, this pair of livewires make it all go down easy.