When Agent Jay (Will Smith) first got into his black suit in the 1997 Men in Black, he puts on his MIB-issue sunglasses and states, “I make this look good.” There was an effortless flair to the original, and to a lesser extent, its two sequels. With excellent chemistry between its two leads, a world full of unique alien characters and an entire galaxy of possibilities, Men in Black was a compelling idea, executed with just the right mixture of comedy and action.
Men in Black was centered around the wise-cracking Smith and his stone-faced partner, Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), a combination that would’ve been fun to watch even without all the aliens and creatures roaming around. For the first time, Men in Black abandons this duo and updates this series for a new generation, with Men in Black: International. Beyond the black suits, aliens and a few nods to the earlier films, Men in Black: International is indistinguishable from what made Men in Black such an incomparable and fun idea in the first place.
Replacing Smith and Jones are Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, as Agent M and Agent H, respectively, trying to rekindle their dynamic from Thor: Ragnarok. In International, Thompson has searched for the Men in Black for twenty years, after she witnessed her parents getting deneuralized by two agents, and made friends with a furry alien creature. Once she discovers the MIB headquarters, she becomes a member of the team on a discretionary period, and sent to look in on the London headquarters. There, she meets Agent H, a charming but sloppy agent who once saved the Earth after fighting an alien group known as The Hive. Once teamed together, M and H must entertain an alien dignitary, fight a pair of fast-moving monsters, and retrieve a world-destroying weapon.
More than any of the films, Men in Black: International focuses far too heavily on the action, and not enough on the comedy. For maybe the first time ever, Thompson’s performance just doesn’t have any electricity, and there’s only so many jokes a film can make about Hemsworth’s H being handsome and reckless. Oddly, H’s entire existence relies on the premise that MIB agents can be careless and terrible at their job, without any real consequences. This is strange, considering they’re supposed to be quite literally guardians of the galaxy. Even Kumail Nanjiani – easily the center of most of the film’s comedic relief – is telling the most obvious jokes in whatever wild situation he finds himself in.
Once M enters the MIB offices, it’s clear that things aren’t at the same quality as they once were. The hub for all sorts of intergalactic creatures is now full of CGI humanoid creations with almost no practical effects in sight. There’s a lack of wonder and individuality to these aliens that does a disservice to this environment. Character designs are incredibly weak, from Agent H’s ex, Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), who’s only alien characteristic is that she has three arms, or the film’s comedic relief, Nanjiani’s Pawny, who essentially looks like a green California Raisin.
The generic nature of the creatures is emblematic of why this film doesn’t work: Men in Black: International is going for the bare minimum in terms of effort. The easiest option is the one that director F. Gary Gray and writers Matt Holloway and Art Marcum always take. This doesn’t feel so much like a universe full of weird opportunities, but more like the blandest example of what this exciting premise could look like. The action is underwhelming, the comedy is transparent, and all traces of inventiveness have been zapped out of this fourth installment.
With the original, Barry Sonnenfeld didn’t just make Men in Black look good, he made it look effortless. In Men in Black: International, F. Gary Gray doesn’t make this look good, he makes it exhausting, and bled dry of any charm that this franchise once held. In a universe of unlimited potential, Men in Black: International takes the most boring and tired path possible.