VOD film review: Men in Black: International
Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson8
Ivan Radford | On 24, Apr 2020
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson
It’s been more than a dozen years since Men in Black first touched down on our screens, with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones teaming up to save the Earth from alien threats. It was a buddy comedy and sci-fi blockbuster wrapped up in one, a formula that spawned two sequels that tried but couldn’t recapture their original spark. Now, the series is back for a fourth outing – and, while it’s an unexpected sequel that nobody wanted, it’s also a sequel that’s unexpectedly entertaining.
The film’s plot is as forgettable as ready salted crisps, parachuting us back into the secret organisation whose most recognisable trait are the black suits, sunglasses and thin ties designed to be anonymous. Long after Agents J and K have gone their respective ways, the agency is now headed up by Emma Thompson’s Agent O and Liam Neeson’s High T. They play the straight bosses to our two new stars: Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson.
He plays Agent H, a legendary hero who once saved the world on the Eiffel Tower with Neeson’s veteran. She plays Agent M, an outsider who pushes her way in to be recruited, after a childhood of being obsessed with science and aliens. They’re inevitably paired up, and what immediately becomes apparent is that he isn’t the legend he’s cracked up to be, and she doesn’t know everything that she thinks. And so they head off on a mission to Get The Thing, Travel to the Place, Interrogate the Extra-Terrestrial, and Shoot the CGI Bug Thing.
The “International” in the title highlights that globe-trotting scale of the film, which, unlike the America-centric original trio, whisks us from New York to London and even to Marrakesh, not to mention Paris. What’s surprising is how that world-hopping scope doesn’t make much of an impression, with the endless chain of MacGuffins barely disguising its own cookie-cutter structure.
If director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) doesn’t quite find the thrill in the string of set pieces and shootouts, though, where he does get it right is in giving Hemsworth and Thompson just enough freedom to have fun. And, despite the generic CGI aliens (watch out for an under-used Rebecca Ferguson), the Thor: Ragnarok co-stars really do have fun, riffing and bantering their way through each set piece.
Hemsworth balances swagger and incompetence with aplomb, while Thompson’s wise-cracking is backed up by actual smarts – where the line ends between the script (by Iron Man’s Art Marcum and Matt Holloway) and their improv is hard to tell, which is credit to how natural the pair are – a double-act without the need for a straight man. They’re joined by an amusing Rafe Spall as mildly resentful Agent C and Kumail Nanjiani as teeny tag-along Pawny, both of whom bring actual laughs to the surprisingly diverting ride. (If you want proof of this film’s success, compare Pawny to Frank the Pug, the tired sidekick of the first three Men in Black films.)
The result isn’t the most memorable blockbuster of the year, or even its own franchise, but this enjoyably goofy ride lingers in the mind just long enough to set a reminder to watch out for the next time Hemsworth and Thompson work together.