No matter the budget or scope of a film, it’s often the tiniest details that key you into how much effort was put into bringing it to life. Take for example Men in Black: International, a borderline comatose reboot of the series that helped turn Will Smith into a superstar. If you look closely, past the painfully obvious bits of corporate branding, you’ll see the movie uses the same city block for several scenes set in supposedly different locations. A common practice, no doubt, but the lack of effort in hiding these cut corners is a small side effect of a larger indifference that ultimately whittles the potential charisma of this reboot down to dust.
As it seems is the trend with this summer’s blockbuster roster, International should have all the pieces to make it work, including a pair of charming, beloved leads in Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth and a franchise well-equipped to highlight the duo’s comedic strengths. The framework of the original film does nothing but set these two up for success, giving them an odd couple energy and enough sleek suits and gadgets for several movies worth of breezy fun. Turns out that the film does nothing but waste their time, playing like a cheeky Listerine tie-in commercial stretched out to feature length.
Art Marcum and Matt Holloway’s script borrows the basic premise of the first film, setting up Agent M (Thompson) as a freshly-minted recruit sent by Agent O (a fun but largely squandered Emma Thompson) to the London MiB office to grow under the wings of legendary agents H (Hemsworth) and High T (Liam Neeson on autopilot). Once there, she stumbles upon a intergalactic conspiracy that whisks her and the bumbling H into a convoluted plot involving a super weapon, a three-armed arms dealer played by Rebecca Ferguson, and more bad quips than you’d find at your local open mic.
This is a franchise that has continually forgotten why it existed in the first place, a fact that’s never been so blatant until now. The original worked because Smith and the curmudgeonly Tommy Lee Jones had an undeniable chemistry that the movie banked itself on. The kooky aliens brought to life by effects legend Rick Backer were just the icing on the cake, giving Smith and Jones more punching bags to jab off of. International is less interested in mining Thompson and Hemsworth’s already proven rapport, opting instead for one uninspired lights show after another.
The irony of that choice comes from Men in Black really having only a single big action scene, whereas International is preoccupied with them. The end result is a film that feels in danger of flatlining at any given moment. F. Gary Gray, a once attuned filmmaker who now directs with the energy of a sloth on hallucinogenics, films all these bland laser battles as if instructed to make them boring as possible. None of the action is fresh enough to justify staking the entire affair on gunfights and car chases, and Thompson and Hemsworth simply aren’t given lines lively enough to spruce up the increasingly benign light shows. The only sparks of life come from a mildly amusing voice-over performance from Kumail Nanjiani as a chess pawn-like creature who ends up serving as Thompson’s wisecracking sidekick. But even that shtick becomes unbearable as the film goes on, wearing out its welcome as it reaches Deadpool levels of thinking it’s the funniest thing ever to grace the screen.
It’s shame the film buries Thompson and Hemsworth under a sea of blandness, given that the pair’s partnership in the supremely entertaining Thor: Ragnarok essentially revitalized what had become the MCU’s most boring character. There’s oodles of potential for the two to recapture that energy here, with Hemsworth mining his attractive doofus energy for all it’s worth while Thompson serves as the sarcastic but empathetic voice of reason. There’s hint of that dynamic throughout, but the curtain dressings around it are so dull that it often spoils the mood. The two should enjoy lengthy big-budget careers if and when they escape Marvel’s grasp, but hopefully they’ll be given options more enticing than this.
Men in Black: International is a yet another lifeless dud in a summer movie season already full of them, wasting its potential charms on tired tropes and even sleepier humor. If anything, it’s a testament to the success of the first film, proving it captured lightning in a bottle in a way that Hollywood has failed to recreate since. If any film could emulate that film’s knack for finding inclusivity among humor, we’d be in luck. For now, all we’ve got is a movie no will remember by the time they reach the theater parking lot.
Men in Black: International is now in theaters worldwide.