Here’s the thing about the Men in Black movies: none of them are really that good. None of them are bad, either, but they’re nothing particularly special. They’ve always been harmless summer blockbusters that were more concerned with being a comedic, visual treat than telling a particularly compelling story. The first three films always succeeded based on the chemistry of their stars – Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. And that was okay. Men in Black never needed to be some pinnacle of storytelling; they were just these enjoyable action movies. All of that remains true for Men in Black: International, the latest sequel/reboot in the Men in Black franchise. The film features a pretty basic, predictable plot, some enjoyable jokes, some serviceable action, and largely succeeds based on the chemistry of its two stars – Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. (Mild spoilers ahead.)
Men in Black: International (written by Art Macrum and Matt Holloway, directed by F. Gary Gray)
The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest, most global threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organization.
The plot of Men in Black: International is an extremely basic one. There’s an alien weapon that some bad guys want and said weapon can destroy entire stars. There is a mole within the Men in Black who also wants the weapon and the mole is the most predictable person possible. Shenanigans ensue. It’s not an impressive plot at all and the mystery, itself, isn’t really that spectacular. As I said, you can guess who the mole is pretty quickly (though there were moments when I thought it was too obvious to be the person it was, so, surely, it couldn’t actually be them). This is all okay, though. None of the other Men in Black films had particularly spectacular plots. These movies have always been excuses to pair two charismatic actors together and force them to face an array of strange alien creatures and this film pulls that off well. The fun of these movies has always been the journey, not the destination. And that’s true here. There are a lot of fun parts of this film that make up for the central plot not being the most interesting. It’s because of those elements that, even though the central plot isn’t spectacular, the film always remains fairly fun.
At times, Men in Black: International almost feels like four episodes of a TV series strung together. Much of the film feels episodic – as if each segment of the film were telling its own story – similar to how episodes of a TV series will tell their own stories while still tying into the series’ overarching storyline. Here, Agents M (Tessa Thompson) and H (Chris Hemsworth) jump from alien threat to alien threat as they are propelled through this adventure. There isn’t really a clear alien antagonist the way there has been in previous films and you don’t learn the identity of the human antagonist until the last fifteen minutes of the film, so each individual alien threat the team faces ends up strengthening this feeling of watching something episodic. Each of these individual episodes ends up being fairly fun, and they do further the character development of Agents M and H, but they also make the movie feel a bit less like a movie than perhaps it should.
Furthering the idea that this film feels like a TV series is the fact that everything feels very small and low stakes. Even though the storyline involves a weapon that could literally destroy the planet, it never really feels world-ending. Even in the climax of the film when everything starts going down, it still feels like more of a personal story than a world-ending-threat. But that’s okay. Too many summer blockbusters feel like they have to top one another with their big, end-of-the-world scenarios. It’s kind of nice to see something a bit smaller. But that smallness does add to the film’s aura of being too-small-for-film. We don’t see this kind of smaller story in blockbusters anymore; they’re relegated to TV shows and mini-series. Couple that with the episodic nature of the film itself, and it’s hard to blame people for feeling like this wasn’t really something worth seeing on the big screen. And, honestly, it’s not really something you need to see on a big screen. The visuals are fine, but they’re not so great that you’d be doing yourself a disservice by seeing them on a smaller screen. It’s a fun film that you can enjoy with your friends, but it’s not a must-see in theaters and, while plenty of people disagree, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
The best aspect of the film, of course, is its cast. Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth have such great chemistry. That chemistry was apparent when they were both in Thor Ragnarok and it’s just as apparent here. Tessa Thompson’s M is the straight-man to Chris Hemsworth’s H and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Their dynamic is really fun to watch; M is more book-smarts while H is more street-smarts and they both are given plenty of different opportunities to shine in their own ways and the film does a great job at developing the two of them as a team. Comedically, Hemsworth and Thompson bounce off of each other so well. I dunno how much of their dialogue was scripted and how much of it was improvised by the two of them, but regardless, they play off of each other extremely well and the two of them end up selling the film. The rest of the cast are also really good, though nobody is ever on screen for long enough to really make much of an impression. Kumail Nanjiani does a really good job voicing an alien character, but he’s probably the only other member of the cast who stands out. Still, it’s obviously Hemsworth and Thompson’s film and they excel in it.
All in all, Men in Black: International is an enjoyable movie. While it doesn’t have a particularly stellar plot, it is filled with a lot of funny moments, some characters that are fun to watch, and two really fun performances from Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. It often feels like a very small film, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. At the end of the day, I had a good time watching this movie. It’s nothing amazing, nor is it challenging in any way, but it’s fun. It’s harmless entertainment and makes for an enjoyable summer afternoon at the movies. While I wouldn’t say it’s a must-see on the big screen, I will say that I think most fans of the Men in Black franchise will enjoy the movie, as will fans of either of these two actors. It’s a fun movie and, while it’s fairly forgettable, it’s also fairly enjoyable. I’d be down to see more films in this series with these two as the leads.
3 out of 5 wands