The appeal of Chris Hemsworth continues to elude me in Men in Black:
International, a tired reboot of the exhausted popcorn movie franchise about
aliens and the government agents who hunt them. The temptation to make a Meh in Black joke at this point is overwhelming indeed, but we're trying to run a classy operation here.
Hemsworth takes over the role of veteran Agent M from Tommy Lee Jones,
and that's the movie's biggest problem—Jones' deadpan attitude and delivery were a critical fuel source in the first three films, which maintained a dry comic quality even as the sequel films gradually declined. MIB has always been a second-tier comic book series anyway, but its wry sense of itself was its distinguishing characteristic, and that was only jazzed up by the undeniable comic chemistry between Jones and Will Smith.
Such attitude and chemistry are largely absent in this new installation, which brings aboard Tessa Thompson (Hemsworth's costar in Thor: Ragnarok) as the agency's newest Person in Black. The film tosses in a couple of throwaway jokes to explain away the gender dilemma and they're pretty good, actually, thanks to the reliable comic instincts of Emma Thompson, here MIB's big boss. The Thompson twins are, in fact, the film's greatest assets; Tessa and Emma have the funniest scenes, individually and together, and each brings a kind of poise that plays nicely against the frantic direction by F Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton). They never quite replicate Jones' deadpan counterpoint maneuvers, but they at least understand the value of them.
So much of the comedy in this franchise pivots on attitude, on the characters and their various reactions to the weirdness playing out around them.
Hemsworth never finds an effective frequency for his Agent M, sadly, and he
flatlines gag after gag with overdone posturing and oversold charm. He does,
however, look absolutely fantastic in bespoke summerwear shirts cut to optimize his intrinsic awesomeness. And I'm not being snarky—I mean it. Aesthetically, you cannot argue with that man's torso.
Story-wise, it's the usual routine: Aliens threaten Earth, the MIB mobilize,
CGI monsters are dispatched, boss fight at the end. The film's International
tag refers to its various exotic locales—Morocco, Italy, London, a fake Paris—but there's a sheen of flop sweat toward the end as the movie tries desperately to
distract you from the inescapable facts: You've already seen this movie, and it was better the first time, the second time and the third time.
+ The Thompsons; Hemsworth's torso
– Dead tired franchise; the rest of Hemsworth
Men in Black: International
Directed by F Gary Gray
With Hemsworth, Thompson, Thompson, Liam Neeson and Kumail Nanjiani
Regal Cinemas (both locations), Violet Crown, PG-13, 115 min