After witnessing their combustible comedic chemistry on display in the ludicrously creative Thor: Ragnarok, I swore I’d watch any movie constructed around Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. I stand by this mission statement, though I pray a repeat viewing of F. Gary Gray's shapeless, pointless Men In Black International isn’t in the cards anytime soon.
Not that Hemsworth and Thompson are to blame for this misfire, which tries to reignite the Men In Black franchise after seven years on the Hollywood backburner. Quite the opposite, as the twosome ensures Men In Black International stays at least watchable throughout its clunky, muddled runtime, though the sequel never quite unravels its various story points into a streamlined thread that makes any sense.
The power couple’s merely doing all that they can with a jumbled script by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway that keeps throwing Hemsworth and Thompson’s Men In Black agents into assorted global missions – London! Paris! Marrakesh! – which are loosely connected by a vague MacGuffin that ends up adding very little value to the overall story. But hey, at least the franchise isn’t limited to New York City anymore, right?
It's puzzling that a movie brimming with aliens, and existing in a science-fiction environment that’s ripe for wild extraterrestrial exploration, can end up being so unimaginative. But Men In Black International feels staid and flat, even as Hemsworth (doing his familiar “polished dunce” act) tries to inject levity opposite Thompson’s patient rookie agent.
What is this movie about? You’d think it’s an origin story for Molly (Thompson), a young girl who witnessed her parents being neuralyzed by the Men In Black at an early age, then committed her life to unearthing the top-secret organization. She succeeds, eventually earning a face-to-face recruitment meeting with Agent O (Emma Thompson) and eventually winning an assignment to MIB’s London branch.
That’s where Molly, code named Agent M, pairs with Hemsworth’s Agent H… and the movie starts to wobble right off of the rails. The story isn’t sure what to do with M and H once they are together, so it basically shoehorns its magnetic leads into unusual situations, then hopes that their inherent chemistry can carry us through. Sometimes that happens, but many times, it does not, and Men In Black International merely shuffles along to the next uninspired set piece.
Speaking of, International is a blockbuster that looks cheap. At one point, M and H are dropped in the middle of a vast desert, and it looks exactly like they filmed on a backlot that’s about the size of a preschool sandbox. There’s a chase through the alleys of Marrakesh, and the Moroccan city looks more like Burbank, California than an African hub.
Hemsworth’s Agent H also ends up being a real problem, one the movie doesn’t solve. He’s part of an early scene that sets up a twist that’s so blatantly obvious, you pray that the easy answer isn’t really the secret that the movie thinks its hiding. Spoiler: It is. But then for the rest of the movie, his loose-cannon antics basically force us to question why he’d ever be employed by Men In Black in the first place. H trusts his gut in virtually every scenario, and it’s played for laughs. But he’s a terrible agent who’d barely qualify for an entry level gig at the TSA, let alone the highest ranks of the MIB. Hemsworth remains funny, though he's flirting with the fact that his approach to comedy is getting a little repetitive.
Thompson, on the other hand, continues to show that she’s a movie star in any Hollywood galaxy. Though she’s tasked with playing the straight suit to Hemsworth’s fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants renegade, Thompson breathes attitude and mischievous glee into Agent M. Despite this dud of a mission, I’d actually line back up to see more MIB with these two, if the franchise were placed in the hands of a screenwriter and filmmaker who showed genuine interest and curiosity in exploring the alien realms that should go hand-in-hand with the Men In Black property.
Reviving a franchise after an extended break can be tough. For every Halloween 2018, we endure another Terminator, or Ridley Scott’s next Alien installment. These reboots can work if the people responsible have real passion for the source material, and a rock-solid idea for the next steps in the overall story. Sadly, Men In Black International really feels like someone pitched “Hemsworth and Thompson are the new Men In Black!” at a studio meeting, and everyone applauded, but no one could be bothered to develop any concrete details beyond that initial selling point.