When Men in Black debuted in 1997, it was as an amiable goof, Ghostbusters with aliens, a delight. The then-cutting edge special effects and breezy chemistry between its two leads largely covered for the fact that there wasn’t much plot relative to its universe-expanding premise, the subtext about an intergalactic immigration force went largely un-interrogated, and the movie barely left Manhattan. More than two decades and three sequels later, we’ve got Men in Black International, which jettisons almost everything that made the original interesting or unique — except for that un-interrogated subtext, which these days seems more unpleasant than ever. Gone are Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, replaced here by the extra attractive Chris Hemsworth (as debonair top MIB agent H) and Tessa Thompson (new, enthusiastic, brilliant recruit M). H & M, get it? That’s one of maybe ten jokes in a film that quickly becomes a laborious, expository slog through yet another threadbare plot about a weird alien doodad that none of the characters seems to realize is an important Macguffin until 45 minutes after the audience already figured it out.
A triumph of studio franchise content, every ounce the Men in Black sequel nobody really asked for or will ever care about.
Hemsworth and Thompson displayed some nice chemistry in Thor: Ragnarok, but here they’re outmatched by this boring scenario, which requires Thompson to be a slightly uptight scold while the handsome dude gets to be the rake, despite a lot of platitudinous junk about hey we have Women in Black, too. Most fascinatingly, this series — one that insists on performing toward the awe, wonder, and endless possibilities of the universe — instead centers on a vast, impenetrable government bureaucracy with infinite technological resources that would doubtlessly enrich the lives of billions, if not many more, and yet all of that is devoted to ensuring that everyone and everything remains in its place. Director F. Gary Gray competently, dutifully replaces Barry Sonnenfeld (who did the three previous films); you lose Sonnenfeld’s keen, get-on-with-it sense of pace, but you also don’t have to put up with him putting a button on every joke with his trademark exaggerated wide angle photography. No matter what, this is a triumph of studio franchise content, every ounce the Men in Black sequel nobody really asked for or will ever care about. It’s thoroughly adequate. Knock yourselves out.