Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson Take on Space Aliens the World Over.
DIRECTED BY F. GARY GRAY/2019
Sorry fans, you can’t just plug Chris Hemsworth into anything. From Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters to this unasked-for reboot, it is now frustratingly clear that everyone’s favorite Asgardian Avenger is not as utilitarian as the powers-that-be behind summer blockbusters would have us believe.
Hemsworth isn’t at all bad in Men in Black: International; it’s just that the material is soooooo uninspired, so insipidly recycled and run of the mill, that there’s nothing for the actor to latch onto. Try as he might, he’s even forsaken the only two laughs in the film, which instead go to a four inch-tall new alien character called Pawny, voiced by Kumail Nanjiani.
Considering how imaginative and fresh the original Men in Black film was when it surfaced twenty-plus years ago, this is a real shame. The covert world of Apple Store-chic modern workaday offices that house scores of uniformly black suited space-alien management specialists was most refreshing circa 1997. We were far enough removed from the film’s most obvious ancestor, Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters films, to sit back and let director Barry Sonnendeld’s vision of undercover Dilbert with xenomorphs wash over us as a very welcome thing. A gooey, gross comedy of intergalactic intrigue all right here in our backyard. The winning chemistry of stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, both fully in the zone for this, was the key ingredient.
Unfortunately, in the two decades that have followed, MIB’s home studio, Sony, has seen fit to replicate its not-so-secret recipe into stagnation. With two poorly received sequels and a kids cartoon series preceding this latest attempt at brand revival (and really, brand revival is all that MIB: International is), Men in Black wore out its welcome with its first Roman numeral appendage. Apparently, this wild, once-fresh imaginative concept doesn’t have the longevity nor endurance nor, crucially, the expansion potential that its initial outing had studio executives convinced of. At least, not when they’re so reluctant to deviate from 1997 form that “stale rehash, repeat” is the only order they’re willing to give. This time, they’re traveling the globe; big deal. Undiscerning audiences, rejoice! You want a warmed over version of Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black, fully tweaked with desperate trappings for the 2019 era? Here you go.
Chris Hemsworth plays Agent H, a cocky, overconfident golden boy who knows how handsome he is. What he doesn’t realize is that since a legendary 2016 operation at the Eiffel Tower, he’s let his MIB mojo slide into dismal territory. Coasting on good looks, charm, and agency life, H is slowly revealed to be a joke of an action hero. At one point, he actually infiltrates a hostile base (owned by a deadly alien arms dealer played by Rebecca Ferguson) as man in pink. His former partner-turned-boss, High T (Liam Neeson), nevertheless keeps him front and center. After all, they’re the ones who, together, stopped an apocalyptic alien force known a The Hive from invading the earth in 2016. Oh, what a glorious, off-camera moment that is said to have been…
Which brings us to everyone’s other favorite heroic Asgardian actor, the talented Tessa Thompson. Thompson carries the unwieldy, overly designed film as newcomer Agent M. Before that, though, she’s just a girl named Molly… a girl with a singleness of purpose and the lifelong drive to achieve her goal. That goal? Becoming Agent M- something she more or less handily does before the ink is dry on Act I. All too soon, she’s alone in the knowledge that there’s a bad guy mole in the organization. With a Scooby-Doo economy of suspects, we’re left to wonder whether this sleepy conspiracy does indeed go all the way to the top.
Like Hemsworth, Thompson finds herself adrift in the sea of an uninspired gargantuan production. Unlike Hemsworth, she lacks the professional experience with this sort of thing to avoid being suffocated by it. Which is too bad; she deserves far better than this tripe. When misogynists pipe up about any given strong and confident female characters being a “Mary Sue”, Agent M is the exact character type that gives most unfortunate fuel to their raging fire. True fact: The only thing M does wrong in the entire course of the film is that she gets in on the wrong side of the tricked-out MIB London car immediately after announcing that she’ll be driving. And that bit is in the trailer.
From the moment we meet the grown Molly, it’s obvious that there’s nothing she can’t accomplish, no problem she can’t solve, no technology she can’t instantly intuit, no desired destiny she can’t attain within the timespan of a snappy, quippy montage. With no attachments and an unrelenting singular focus to one day join the secret organization that she, as a child, saw neurolize her parents (that MIB trademark pen-sized “flashy thing” that makes people forget the immediate moments), Molly persists until the day comes when she finds her way into MIB headquarters, impressing New York boss Emma Thompson. (No relation to Tessa). In short, Molly is the most boring character ever. And once again, a popular, engaging actor of the moment has been seduced into wasting her time with a project such as this.
Until someone gets the nerve to truly turn MIB on its head in the dazzling way that the original film dazzled multiplex audiences, this series is a moot entity, filed right alongside other such fizzled attempts as The Huntsman films, 2015’s Vacation, and most glaringly apropo, 2016’s Ghostbusters. And of course, that deliberate list goes to show that everyone’s favorite Chris, Chris Hemsworth, has succeeded big time in spite of many of his own choices. In that sense, it’s tempting to say that his Agent H character is all too reflective of its actor. But that is not fair, as Hemsworth has recently proven himself in other more esoteric fare as Bad Times at the El Royale. The realization is enough to make one long for Hemsworth’s earlier, far more interesting days of stardom, when Hollywood didn’t quite know what to do with him, yielding such curios as Rush, Blackhat and The Cabin In the Woods.
Director F. Gary Gray is both to blame and pity, as the opportunity to helm a giant summer tentpole action/comedy can’t be easy for a multi-purpose filmmaker such as himself to turn down. He pulled off Fate of the Furious, so why not Men in Black? Unlike the bigger-and-bigger and very alive Fast & Furious series, MIB is a recognizable brand in search of spark. That may be enough for Sony to blindly hurl untold millions at a reboot, but it’s not enough for the film itself. Gray proves himself to be as uninspired as anyone else involved with MIB: International besides maybe the production designer. This is a far cry from his rather sublime Straight Outta Compton.
As the final end credits rolled on Men in Black: International, the audience member directly behind me, waiting vain for a bonus scene like a good little Marvel fan, verbalized that it would’ve been great if the Columbia Pictures logo lady’s torch would’ve flashed like a nuerolizer. “Yes”, I thought. “And even better if it worked”. But of course, with a film as blah as this, no such technology is necessary to make one immediately forget it. Memory of it goes black immediately.