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Men In Black: International Movie Review

Men In Black: International Review

By Lora Grady

The Men In Black are back. The fourth cinematic outing for the slick, shadowy operatives who scan the skies and play traffic cop for all manner of alien life seeking a stopover on our home planet boasts a few culture-conscious updates – for one, they’re tiptoeing comically around the realization that “The Men (and Women!) In Black” is a needed revision to the moniker. And they’ve gone global, as the title of the latest film, “Men In Black: International,” clearly states. But at the end of the day, the mission statement hasn’t changed; the MIB are still about “protecting the Earth from the scum of the Universe.” This commitment to consistency will either be a comfort or a letdown, depending on your perspective.

“MIB: I” does hit the refresh button on the franchise by retiring Will Smith’s slick Agent J and Tommy Lee Jones’s cynical Agent K in favor of the neophyte Agent M (Tessa Thompson, “Little Woods“), who is motivated by a childhood encounter with an alien and finds her way to MIB HQ through some clever guesswork and sheer persistence. Soon M is en route to London, where she’s paired up with roguishly charming Agent H (Chris Hemsworth, “Avengers: Endgame“) on what seems like a milk run of an assignment: play bodyguard to a visiting alien royal with a taste for our planet’s club scene. But of course it’s not that simple, and soon M and H are in hot pursuit of a couple of otherworldly hitmen, squabbling over a McGuffin-y piece of extraplanetary weaponry, and trading verbal jabs over H’s ruthless alien arms dealer ex-girlfriend, Riza (Rebecca Ferguson, “The Greatest Showman“).


But while the faces have changed, many of the plot points seem resuscitated from earlier entries in the franchise. The alien assassination plot? Been there. The deceptively tiny piece of technological whatzit that keeps changing hands? Done that. We even get recycled versions of throwaway gags from the original – though this time the “big board” at MIB HQ that tracks resident aliens is showing the likes of Elon Musk rather than Michael Jackson. “MIB: I” is built on the same conceit as previous films: the idea that just out of sight of we hapless, linear-thinking nine-to-fivers is a weird, wonderful world bustling with all manner of intriguingly bizarre alien activity. It worked the first time around because the concept was brashly inventive, and by now we’ve become accustomed to the tricks.

Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth play well off of each other and they’re entertaining to watch despite the occasionally wheezy material. Absent Will Smith’s signature swagger “MIB: I” is a more subdued outing than expected, but Ms. Thompson takes the lead role in her own direction through a combo of smart self-confidence and a fun sense of wonder, and Mr. Hemsworth uses his action hero good looks to solid comic effect; he knows how to handle a punchline, and he nails a couple of fun physical gags along the way.

But the biggest laughs belong to Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick,”) who voices Pawny, a pint-sized alien who evinces a stubborn loyalty to M while taking an instant dislike to H. Mr. Nanjiana brings spot-on comic timing to the spritely sidekick, leavening every scene he’s in, and Pawny’s CGI facial expressions are a great match for his line readings.

“MIB: International” does benefit from a pair of genuinely creepy antagonists, in the form of two alien hitmen played by Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, aka Les Twins. Their ominous energy lends a genuine sense of menace to this series that has previously trafficked in more cartoonish villains, from Vincent D’Onofrio’s scenery-devouring turn as Edgar the Bug in the original, to Lara Flynn Boyle as overblown femme fatale Serleena in “MIB II.”

That aside, “Men In Black: International” doesn’t really take the franchise in any new directions, and that’s a disappointment. With heavy hitters such as Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson also along for the ride, the whole outing seems like a bit of a missed opportunity. Fans who loved the previous films will have fun revisiting this world and catching up with its familiar rhythms, but others may wish it served up a slightly more alien sensibility and a little less business as usual.

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