Men In Black: International (2019) offers self-neuralyzing entertainment

For a franchise which has often been plagued with a sense of déjà vu (indeed its first sequel was an almost note for note remake of the first film and its second was themed around the redoing historic events), the most disappointing aspect of “Men In Black: International” is how familiar it all feels, despite the so-hot-right-now re-pairing of Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth.

Having seen the Men In Black neuralyze her parents when she was young, Molly (Tessa Thompson) has spent her entire life trying to find the secretive organisation. When she finally manages to infiltrate the bureau, she’s caught immediately but, instead of neuralyzing her, Agent O (Emma Thompson) sees potential in Molly’s exceptional ingenuity. Appointing her as a probationary agent, O sends her to the London branch of the MIB, run by High T (Liam Neeson) where’s she’s partnered up with the brash and cocky H (Chris Hemsworth), an agent seemingly content to rest on the laurels of past successes.

While Hemsworth and Thompson in particular, bring a sense of energy to their roles, there’s little they can do to overcome the sense of storytelling inertia. The plot, concerning the possible return of a previously vanquished threat – The Hive – and a possible conspiracy at the heart of the MIB organisation is told without any sense of urgency or passion. It always feels more like a box-ticking exercise than a cohesive narrative and the lack of commitment extends to the characters themselves. Most of the character actions and motivations are arbitrary and while they’re convenient to the plot, nothing feels organic. There are vague allusions to characters’ pasts but it’s all kind of muddled and unfocused; nothing is ever properly developed or explored.

The movie’s big twist reveal is fairly obvious almost from the beginning but there’s still fun to be had and where the writing may be a bit slapdash, the visuals are as impressive as ever, especially the realisation of the sinister alien ‘Hive Twins’, antagonists so impressively rendered they deserve a better film to be in. The winning chemistry between Thompson and Hemsworth doesn’t quite reach the delicious heights of “Thor: Ragnarok” here but there’s enough of a spark to keep things moving and the repartee improves markedly once Kumail Nanjiani’s Pawny joins the ensemble. On the downside, poor old Rafe Spall is lumbered with a milquetoast Ricky Gervais impression as Agent C and Neeson’s performance as High T could be charitably described as disengaged.

It’s not terrible, nor is it very good, it’s…fine, I guess. It’s kind of fun while you’re watching it but it slips from the memory almost the moment the credits roll. The good news for Sony is that there’s definitely ongoing franchise potential in “Men In Black”. The bad news is it’s not really suited to movies where you end up having to tell variations on the same plot over and over again. MIB’s best hope for the future lies on the small screen, where it could space out the end-of-the-world extravaganzas with case-of-the-week procedural hijinks.

6/10

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