F. Gary Gray, the man who gave us Friday, The Negotiator, The Italian Job, Straight Outta Compton, and The Fate of the Furious now gives us the latest Men in Black entry, Men in Black: International. The Men in Black series is loosely based on the Malibu/Marvel comic of the same name by Lowell Cunningham, with a story here written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, who wrote Iron Man and then went on to write Transformers: The Last Knight. I’m not entirely sure where their script went off the rails, as it were,
Men in Black: International features Chris Hemsworth as Agent H and Tessa Thompson as Agent M in what was supposed to be a spin-off of the original trilogy of movies. The story concerns itself with Molly (Thompson) as she works her way into the Men in Black HQ in NYC. Gray and the screenwriters conveniently use a backstory, similar to the one audiences will see in Warner Bros.’ Shaft also playing in theaters this weekend.
The backstory, which is over in flash, plays a little too conveniently into her finding the headquarters of the most secretive agency this government has never known. Admittedly, her interviews with the FBI and the CIA were pretty funny and I liked Thompson’s spunkiness.
In fact, once Molly is accepted into the Men in Black, Thompson is a natural fit for the character: charismatic, fun; her performance loosely reminded me of Will Smith. Her acceptance into the program earns her the attention of Emma Thompson as Agent O, who has suspicions about the London office. Agent M is whisked away to London where she meets High T, the head of the London MiB branch, played by Liam Neeson.
Agent M’s first assignment is to pair up with Agent H played by Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth, who most audiences will know as Thor, is offers a strong performance, playing nicely off of Thompson. Once they’re together though, the characters really didn’t mesh very well. Agent H is a partier while Agent M is a strictly by-the-book type character. The trouble with their characters is that they’re sent off on a globetrotting adventure through North Africa and southern Europe on the hunt for a weapon.
Kumail Nanjiani plays Pawny, someone who the Agents befriend in their adventure. He is the plucky comedic relief in a film that really didn’t need any more plucky, comedic relief, though I did enjoy the technology that went into creating the character. The problem is that the witty banter that they gave to Hemsworth and Thompson was also supposed to play into Pawny’s humor; it just got ingratiating.
Rebecca Ferguson plays Riza, an alien arms dealer with a connection to Agent H. Though I enjoyed Ferguson’s performance, her role could have easily been shortened or omitted in favor of more time with The Twins. Played by Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, The Twins are galactic aliens who are after something sinister.
Which leads us back to the Men in Black London office, staffed by Agent C (Rafe Spall) who believes everything is suspect and High T (I’m still laughing at the juxtaposition of that characters’ name) running the show.
Men in Black: International spends more time trotting around the world and trying to make us laugh then it does in telling a convincing story. I felt like Sony took the framework of a Daniel Craig James Bond story, stuck Hemsworth into the same role, added some comedy and called it a day. Hemsworth and Thompson have a natural chemistry that pairs the two actors very well, but this story didn’t work.
One has to wonder why Sony and Warner Bros. picked the same weekend to offer audiences two films that start, rather poorly, on a backstory. Men in Black: International works just a bit better than Shaft.
Which is to say that neither works very well because they both forgot where they came from.
Now in theaters, Men in Black: International is rated PG-13.