Men in Black: International
It has to take a big flop for movie studios to stop making a franchise, even if that means sapping the life out of a beloved world. Men in Black (1997) had been a fun and surprising hit, whose subsequent sequels in 2002 and 2012 seemed inevitable after the first’s success. However, the buddy-comedies starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones seemed to be heavily linked with its leading men, perhaps that is why this latest outing without them falters at capturing any of the previous’ electricity.
Men in Black: International (2019) is the fourth entry in the Men in Black series, that follows the government organization tasked with keeping alien life secret from the public.We follow Molly (Tessa Thompson) a M.I.B fanatic ever since she saw agents erase her parents’ memories of an alien encounter. After 20 years, she is able to track down the M.I.B. head quarters, and recruited by the head of New York branch O (Emma Thompson). During her probationary period as an agent, Molly is sent to London for some experience where she encounters star agent H (Chris Hemsworth), whose fame after previous successes has led him to complacency and arrogance.
The film is an unabashed reboot of the series, trying to piggyback on the chemistry and success that Thompson and Hemsworth had when the played opposite each other in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Surprisingly, the two aren’t able to rack up the witty and fun banter in this Men in Black entry, having the weight of this film’s flaws fall more heavily on director F. Gary Gray.
Gary Gray, has been a consistent director when delivering hits, beginning with Friday (1995) and more recently with Straight Outta Compton (2015) and Fate of the Furious (2017), however, I can’t confess to have been a fan of his directing style, as he relies far too much on other working components than in adding his own personal tone and direction to a film. This made the editing of International, particularly noticeable, with the transitions between scenes and the composition of some of them to appear incomplete or jagged. This made the entire progression of the narrative seem choppy and confused with itself, as to where exactly it’s supposed to go. This is caused when there is no clear cohesion or common tone, which led me to believe in Gary Gray was the most adequate choice in a franchise known for its detailed director Barry Sonnenfeld (director of the previous three films). Sonnenfeld gave his films a unique style, akin to a watered-down Tim Burton film; Gary Gray seemed either too timid or incapable of giving as much attention to detail and tone.
This aimless direction might also be caused by the fact that the script by Chris Morgan doesn’t really have a fresh take or idea with the Men in Black world, instead relying on the structures of previous films in the franchise and forgetting to explore or layer its characters. While this is pegged as an “expansion” of the M.I.B. universe geographically and in scope, it really felt like a contraction in terms of the richness of the world and its characters.
That’s not to say that this doesn’t feel like a Men in Black movie, certainly the fabulous production design maintains the ingenuity of the technology and setting of the M.I.B. world, with such additions like a high speed train from New York to London, and a secret elevator in a cab.
The time difference between the last Men in Black film (2012) and this one (2019) should be evidence enough that Sony couldn’t come up with an urgent story for this world, and in fear of losing franchise potential, launched a patched and seemingly empty entry with Men in Black: International.