Between Batman & Robin, Spawn, and Steel, 1997 is often remembered as the year that almost killed comic book movies. As superheroes hit an all-time low on the silver screen, however, there was a little blockbuster called Men in Black. At a time when sci-fi movies were mainly played with a straight face, this adaptation of the Malibu/Marvel comic series incorporated a self-aware sense of humor and inventive flare. In a way, the film’s mix of comedy and special effects predated many MCU movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok. It would appear things have come full circle, as the MCU’s Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson take the reins in Men in Black: International.
With exception to a clever Easter egg, Will Smith’s Agent J and Tom Lee Jones’ Agent K are MIA. The only returning cast members are Emma Thompson as Agent O and Tim Blaney as Frank the Pug, although even they’re designated to cameos. The reboot/sequel belongs to Thompson’s Agent M, who manages to infiltrate MIB after decades of watching the stars. M is given a trial run at the agency’s UK branch where she finds herself working alongside the seasoned Agent H, played by Hemsworth. With Liam Neeson as their fearless leader, M and H naturally set out on a mission involving weird aliens, underground societies, and nifty gadgets. The deeper they probe, though, the duo discovers that there might be a mole in MIB.
Although director F. Gary Gray doesn’t have Barry Sonnenfeld’s whimsical visual eye, he still turns in a good-looking movie that more or less gets the spirit of the franchise down. Actually, considering that Gray directed Be Cool, it’s ironic that he would inherit the Men in Black franchise from Sonnenfeld, who directed Get Shorty. Of course, Get Shorty was undeniably a better film than Be Cool and Men in Black: International can’t hold a Neuralyzer to the original classic. That being said, the film is a significant step up from Men in Black II, which was completely forgettable outside of a couple visual gags. This soft reboot ranks just a step down from Men in Black III, which ended up being more fun than it had any right to be.
What makes Men in Black: International worth the price of admission is its cast. We already knew that Hemsworth and Thompson had splendid chemistry based on their performances as Thor and Valkyrie. They bring that same comradery to this film with Thompson being the smart, resilient one and Hemsworth being the hunky goofball. While you could see these two becoming a romantic item, they’re dynamic is mostly played as a buddy picture. Hemsworth and Thompson aren’t alone, as we get some hilarious supporting work from Kumail Nanjiani, who voices a pintsized alien known as Pawny. The invaluable Rebecca Ferguson is also scene-stealing as an alien mobster who vaporizes first and asks questions never.
The third act is where the film could’ve used a rewrite. The story builds up to a twist that really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that this whole “surprise villain” trope needs to die. Aside from this, Men in Black: International is a solid addition to the franchise that doesn’t take many chances, but it doesn’t drop the ball either. If they’re going to make MIB 5, however, they need to expand upon this universe in new and unexpected ways. Am I the only won who still wants that Men in Black/21 Jump Street crossover?