'Men in Black: International' (2019) Movie Review
1997 – 2012
Back in the late ‘90s and throughout the 2000s, the first Men in Black flick was something me and my family would revisit constantly. We thoroughly enjoyed re-watching the picture time and time again; the fantastic comedic counterbalance chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones was hilarious, the world building of this unique environment involving aliens and this secret government organization that dealt with extra-terrestrials was colorfully fun to explore, the villain played by Vincent D’Onofrio was wonderfully over-the-top, and the special effects were pretty cool. We adored the movie and I still do to this day. Sadly Rip Torn, a legendary actor who also starred in the franchise, passed away just recently. Torn was also a major component as to why the 1997 feature worked so magnificently well and he will certainly be missed. Men in Black is one of those perfect popcorn flicks that I could watch about any time and still have a blast watching.
Then about five years later, the very first sequel arrives; Men in Black II. It was a sequel that my family neither loved or hated, we watched maybe on occasion, but for the most part reserved ourselves to mainly revisit the original film as we felt that held the true magic of the Men in Black formula. Ten years later, we find ourselves in the summer of 2012 when the long-awaited third installment finally released. Personally, I really liked Men in Black III and thought it maintained a good amount of fun and heart in its material. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I loved it nearly as much as the original film, but I still dug it. Overall on this film franchise, up to that point, I would state that the Men in Black series had been spotty at best and nothing has really come close to recapturing the spirit or energy of the original film. 1997’s Men in Black was lightning in a bottle that seemed damn near impossible to replicate.
Here we are now, 22 years after the very first installment of this long-running franchise and where have we landed? Let me say that my last assessment back in 2012 about how the “lightning in a bottle” that could never be repeated was completely and utterly… right. I was apparently and depressingly right. This God damn franchise can’t seem to get its feet off the ground to save its own soul, if this fourth installment even had a soul. Men in Black: International is soulless, lifeless, uninspired, unfunny, uncharismatic, uncool, unclever, uninteresting, un-everything. I was so bored and miserable through the entire movie. There was nothing to come close in keep my attention or make me care or even muster up a true laugh from me that were more than the slightest of chuckles maybe every twenty minutes or so. This was the most generic dead zone of a blockbuster that someone could fart out while half asleep and on Xanax. There is nothing to this that made me give a sh*t. I couldn’t even get mad because I cared so little about everything going on in front of me. For the two hour runtime, my body basically sank into my theater seat as I continued watching, until my upper back replaced my ass in the chair. The longer it went on, the lower I found myself in the seat until I realized that I was in pain and had to sit back up because I knew that the filmmakers would never front the chiropractic bills I would need after this screening.
I’m having difficulties even recalling what this movie was even about because it left such little impression on me after leaving the cinema… Okay. Hold on. Give me a second. Alright, Tessa Thompson (Yes, I know her character had a name, but I don’t care. She’s Tessa Thompson.) discovers the Men in Black organization at an early age and spends her entire life in search of them, in hopes that maybe they would recruit her. She does and they do. Whoopity doo. Thompson is quickly signed onto a case alongside Agent Chris Hemsworth (Don’t even start with me) and they find themselves on an investigation to figure out if there is a mole inside of the MIB and why a horny alien gave them a glowing little Rubik’s cube. There, good enough.
Trying to be Positive
To give this film as much credit as I possibly can, I will start with the positives before digging straight into the negatives that I have.
The Visual Designs
In terms of character and creature designs, there is a fair share of creativity being displayed within the artistry that went into these concept designs. Most of the aliens and sci-fi technology seen throughout the movie is relatively cool and well done. I actually did like seeing what alien design the filmmakers were going to show off next or weapon/vehicle designs they had to share as well. That stuff was legitimately nice to see. Not to mention the special effects that went into fully realizing these elements were also expertly crafted and they looked solid.
Chris Hemsworth is Trying
I really like Chris Hemsworth as an actor, I think that he brings a terrific amount of charisma to the screen when given the right material and direction. The man is easily the most classic Hollywood movie star that we have working today. Here, he’s clearly trying his best to make something work. To make anything work. Sometimes he managed to get a chuckle out of me or charm me slightly, unfortunately the script that he is working with and his co-star are giving him nothing. I will get more into that later, in terms of strictly Hemsworth on his own merits, he is at least trying to give this film some life. The film unfortunately fails him drastically though. Not to say that the rest of the cast does a poor job in their roles necessarily, but Chris Hemsworth really was the only driving force that this movie relied on and it supplied little to nothing for support.
The character arc that Hemworth is provided seems to be the basic stepping stones of what would be in a first draft of the script, yet they declined the opportunity to flesh it out any further. His arc had potential in being complex and interesting, but ultimately is about as hollow as everything else that the picture has to offer. It starts confused in what it wants to do with his character and then proceeds in going nowhere. What a great idea for an arc, let’s take this character and introduce the audience with ideas that could be entertaining in some way shape or form and then do nothing at all with them. Start nowhere and end nowhere. Perfect!
No More Mr. Nice Critic
Seriously? Twenty-two years I have waited to finally see something come close to that wonderful sense of enjoyment and thrills that I received from the very first Men in Black film back in 1997, yet we have only gone backwards with interjecting the irritatingly cynical ‘progression’ of today’s modern sensibilities rather than actually crafting a solid story with interesting characters instead. Seriously?! Look, it’s great to have more female characters that can kick some ass onscreen, but it has to be more than simply ‘more women on screen’. I need them to be interesting, I need the world that they are inhabiting to be interesting, I need anything at all about the screenplay to be INTERESTING. Men in Black: International is not interesting. Tessa Thompson, in this film, is not interesting.
If the casting call for Chris Hemsworth’s onscreen partner read something along the lines of, “Need the most boring block of wood imaginable to stand next to big hunky guy and occasionally widen eyes in amazement of all the green screen trickery being displayed”, then a literal block of wood with googly eyes would have been vastly more captivating than Tessa Thompson in this movie. Personally, I like Tessa Thompson as an actress, I believe that she is capable of terrific performances. I absolutely loved her work in both the Creed films and she was great in last year’s Annihilation. Admittedly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first Hemsworth-Thompson vehicle in that of Thor: Ragnarok, but I still thought she at least tried there. Men in Black: International, she is a nothing character with a performance that bored me to tears.
In terms of the character writing, I had no clue as to why Thompson’s character was even recruited into the MIB. So she was dedicated in finding this organization, that I am honestly surprised wasn’t found by thousands more with how sloppily most of their agents handle witnesses. So what? That’s apparently enough to just immediately be a part of this top secret operation that deals with saving the world on practically a daily basis it seems? Why?! In the first film, to me, it made sense why Will Smith was taken in by the MIB. Yes, he was a bit of a loose cannon and particularly cocky, but he was also an extremely competent police officer and detective that was very effective at his job. Plus, it felt natural with how Tommy Lee Jones’s character viewed the potential in Smith’s character. It made sense in my opinion. Thompson simply waltzes in and says, “ I’m smart and determined and have no life”. You’re hired! Stupid.
Beyond her initiation into the MIB, the development of this character drops dead in its tracks to provide nothing about this chick. I know quite literally nothing about this woman. Who is she? A woman that discovered the MIB as a kid and wanted desperately to join, she has a mom and a dad, and she’s supposedly never been in love I guess. That’s it. How… interesting? Not really. Why should I care about her? What is there to learn about her? Okay, maybe at the very least Thompson’s performance could inject this character with some sort of personality right? Wrong. Thompson plays the role as the wide eyed newbie that is delighted and wowed by everything that goes on in this world. More or less being the audience’s vehicle to explore and understand what’s going on. That’s not a character, that’s a tour guide. Gee thanks for that. I really needed a cynically manufactured puppet to tell me all about the world I’m revisiting for the fourth f*cking time now. Idiots.
The Mysterious Story of MysteryClick thumbnail to view full-size
The big twist, the baddie, and the entire structure I had pegged from the very first scene. I’m not joking. The first scene happened and I immediately knew where the story was going to go and who the antagonist was going to end up being. Then I waited about two hours for the film to actually catch up with me. If the movie was funny or engaging in any other way then I could have easily let this go, but since no one and nothing was even remotely catching my attention, it felt like a chore hitting the breaks and speeding into reverse so I didn’t fly too far ahead of the plot threads.
For about two thirds of the film, there is a duo of villains that are introduced to us. I will try my best not to spoil anything, however it is fairly obvious as to where this ends up going with the two baddies here. I will say that the special effects and designs of these two antagonists when in their alien form is neat. Problem mostly being though that when they are in human form, they’re being performed by break dancers that spend most of their scenes break dancing for no reason. The plot will just randomly screech to an immediate halt so that these two actors can break dance. Even in the middle of an action scene they will break dance their fighting moves. This felt so lame! It’s been a while since I’ve been so underwhelmed by an antagonist in a film. International takes the cake in that department. And no, it doesn’t improve when certain plot twists are ‘revealed’ and there is another baddie that comes into play. It made up for nothing. It was generic and still completely underwhelming.
It was fine, I guess? There’s nothing noteworthy about any of the action, truth be told. Good or bad. It was there. No more, no less. Nothing about it thrilled me, impressed me, or roped me into investing myself in the mayhem. It was standard summertime PG-13 action fluff. I won’t say that the effects or stunt work was handled poorly by any means, there sadly was no reason for me to get excited about any of it is all.
The Men in Black franchise is known well for its quick and sharp sense of humor with amazing comedic duos to bounce material back and forth effortlessly. International has such a painfully modern comedy style that comes across as mostly pandering to its audience. Every now and again, I did get maybe a light chuckle out of a joke. Mostly, I sat in that theater in total silence. What hurts most about the comedy here is that Hemsworth is trying desperately to make any joke land and Thompson is giving him nothing to work with at all. It was like watching the scene from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining where Jack Nicholson was bouncing a tennis ball against a wall inside the hotel; only in this case, Hemsworth is Nicholson and Thompson is the wall and the wall keeps eating the ball rather than bouncing it back to her co-lead. It frustrated me how little attempt was made to make this character actually funny. The character can still take things seriously, so long as the film’s tone finds a way to make her reactions humorous. A terrific example is that of Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin in the original MIB trilogy. Both actors did a terrific job at delivering deadpan and straight man performances that worked wonders in the films’ humor. Thompson's delivery was so uninspired that nothing from her resulted in anything actually funny in the slightest. A lifeless performance from start to finish.
Then any time it was brought up in the dialog to promote feminism, it never felt natural or genuine in any way, it felt forced and cringeworthy. Like I said, I love to see female characters being badass. Earlier this year, Captain Marvel did a good job at delivering just that. Or like I mentioned previously with that of Annihilation, that’s a film with a largely female cast that are all pretty damn awesome. If that’s not enough, there was also Steve McQueen’s Widows from last year as well that really put the spotlight on some magnificent female characters. Difference here being that those films actually created three-dimensional and fully realized characters, Men in Black: International has cardboard cutouts to ‘promote’ feminism in the most cynical and money grubbing type of way. That isn’t being progressive, that’s capitalizing on what’s popular nowadays and manipulative of people who want to support a good cause. In my opinion, that’s shameful.
One of the biggest issues I retained in the comedy department is that of Kumail Nanjiani’s role as Pawny, he was fairly dreadful to endure as his adlibbing made for a wildly inconsistent and horribly unfunny character. Nanjiani’s filmography I can’t say I am too familiar with, but I have seen a few of his movies and I know that this man is a terrific talent. One of my favorite films of 2017 was one that he starred in and co-wrote, The Big Sick. Not only was that one of the funniest movies I saw that year, it was also one of the most heartfelt and that was significantly due to Kumail Nanjiani’s performance. Nanjiani in International, on the other hand, made me want to chunk that little f*cker out of a window. I really could not stand this little dude as he continuously made cracks with modern references, yet somehow was clueless when it came to subjects that made no sense as to why he would be confused in that moment. I can’t be all that specific unfortunately because the example of what I am referring to in the movie escapes my mind presently, but it was something that kept happening and I became fed up with Pawny’s schtick fast.
You know what, I already said everything I needed to say. Soulless. Lifeless. Not funny. Not interesting. No charm. Dead zone of the summer blockbuster. It’s not very good. I’d argue that it’s not good, period. It’s a disappointment. No one tried. No one cared. Hemsworth tried a little, that didn’t do much to help this picture. No, I take that back calling it a “picture”. Pictures can at least contain a thousand words within their image. Men in Black: International has nothing to say. There are no words. There are no artistic merits to be recognized. International is a product. A product of our modern times and capitalizing on that in the laziest way possible. There are other possibilities to watch at practically anyone’s fingertips, so watch anything else. There is no need to watch International. Not even out of morbid curiosity, morbid curiosity is warranted for a film that actually tries at least in being spectacularly terrible. This was just a flatline on the big screen. Screw this, I’m done. I should be spending my time more wisely than talking about this God damn film any further. I think I’ve got some turkey in the fridge, I’m going to go make me a sandwich. There, a million times more interesting than the movie I just saw. Me making a turkey sandwich. You’re welcome. Goodbye.
What Is Your Favorite 'Men in Black'?
Out of the entire franchise that has been developed since 1997, what is your favorite 'Men in Black' interpretation?
That’s All Folks…
Men in Black: International… It was bad. What did you think though? Did you like or dislike it? Agree or disagree? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves an alienated day? I’m trying. I got nothing. I’m sorry. I’ll do better next time, coach!
© 2019 John Plocar