Men In Black: International should be a rollicking delight. A franchise known for madcap fun and sci-fi shenanigans gets new life from Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, two stars who are astoundingly charismatic, sharply funny, and hot to boot. Plus Kumail Nanjiani as a wisecracking alien and Emma Thomspon as a badass boss lady. It should easily make for a good time! So why does watching it feel like such a chore?
Part of the problem is a plot that manages to be both convoluted and predictable. We begin in 2016 Paris, then jump back 20 years to Brooklyn, then leap forward 23 years. Along the way, this shambles of a script introduces wannabe agent M (Tessa Thompson) who will prove herself to the mysterious organization swiftly (and largely offscreen) before the end of the first act. As a probationary agent, she meets the rule-breaking rogue of the London branch, Agent H (Hemsworth), whose bad-boy allure is so intense, his time-warping co-worker likes to slow things down to properly ogle his swagger into the office.
Desperate to prove herself, M is by-the-book. Wreckless to a fault, H chucks the book out the window or maybe lights it up to better huff alien drugs. What an odd couple they are! What fun it should be to watch them! But something is just missing. Well, several things. For one, there’s no exciting Big Bad to set up the stakes. Instead, we’re introduced to The Hive, a parasitic extraterrestrial species that’s hellbent on conquering and has incredible and incredibly vague powers! They are shape-shifters who can melt people and cliff faces, and also they can cause earthquakes; also they make electricity go haywire by accident, but only some of the time, and that one doesn’t matter as far as the plot is concerned. But—uh—look over here as M and H dart from London to Marrakesh to Naples, where they’ll meet an alien arms dealer who—are you ready for this?—has three arms! And she’s an arms dealer! Get it! Are you laughing? Yeah. Me neither. And that’s about the level of jokes Men In Black: International is working with.
Without a distinct villain (oh how I long for Vincent D’Onofrio’s creepy crawler!), there’s little sense of urgency or danger, no matter how much characters chatter about the end of the world. So all the action scenes fall a bit flat. And I know there are jokes in this movie. I mean, there must be, it’s Men in Black! But aside from the slo-mo one above, I struggle to remember a single one. Mostly, Thompson, Hemsworth, and Nanjiani (who voices a pugnacious and pint-sized alien sidekick) volley uninspired banter that lacks originality or verve. And sometimes, their charm almost makes it work! But with a movie whose plot get mired in obvious red herrings so it can meander about the globe before a painfully predictable ending, this typically terrific trio cannot save the day.
Men In Black: International is woefully mediocre. Its edit is sloppy, leaping locations and ignoring logic to try to stitch together some sense of pace. Its punchlines lack punch. Its plot twist is so obvious you’ll probably clock it by the five-minute mark. And it sadly doesn’t know what to do with the enticing combo of Thompson and Hemsworth. In Thor: Ragnarok, the two proved they could be a dynamic duo! But here, they never quite click.
Perhaps part of the problem is Men In Black: International can’t seem to decide if M and H are flirting or not. Sure, M checks him out with a co-worker, but there’s never any heat between them, and the introduction of H’s fiery ex-girlfriend (the criminally underused Rebecca Ferguson) seems to squash any potential for romance. The sexual chemistry from Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t exist here, which kills a certain amount of excitement from this pairing. Beyond that, the movie can’t decide what to do with Thompson. For Hemsworth, he’s introduced like a hero in the vein of Indiana Jones, James Bond, or Captain Kirk: cool, unkillable, with a thirst for danger and a greater thirst for women (alien or otherwise)! This archetype means that Thompson should be a sidekick, a sidepiece, or a straight man, and she’s none of the above.
M begins the film feeling like a nod to Will Smith’s Jay, who was a street smart action hero with a cracking wit and a jaw-dropped awe of the weirdness he encountered. When she’s alone, we see M geek out over aliens, mysteries, and the Men In Black. And frankly, it’s fun to see Thompson get to play something outside of her “cool girl” niche she’s mastered. The problem is that once she’s in the suit, M tries to restrain her enthusiasm to look professional. So gone are the charming giddiness and any potential goofiness that could follow in Smith’s path. But she’s not stoic or jaded enough to play the straight man as Tommy Lee Jones did. So here you have two charming people who act determinedly chill and are dedicatedly not flirting and don’t have any jokes to speak of and—just what fun is any of that!
It’s astounding how Men in Black: International drops the ball. It had all the pieces for something sensational. There is some entertainment found in Nanjiani’s riffs, Hemsworth’s apparent glee at playing a bit of a dirtbag, Thompson’s dabbling in playing giddy, and Emma Thompson’s and Rebecca Ferguson’s too-brief roles. But overall, it’s a wonky ride that feels more about plot points than fun.