It's one thing to have the ending of the movie revealed to you through Internet spoilers. It's another to have the ending revealed because the plot is telegraphed to you in the opening scenes of the film. That's what happens in Men in Black: International, where the film's central antagonist is so heavily hinted to you in the first act of the movie that it's hardly a surprise when they spring the big "reveal" in the completely unsurprising finale.
The fourth Men in Black instalment follows the adventures of Agents M and H as they investigate the inexplicable assassination of an alien dignitary on Earth... only to find a trail of alien bodies wherever they look. They soon discover a conspiracy that spans both humans and aliens alike, with the entire galaxy at stake. Unless they can find out who is behind the senseless murders, there might not be much of a galaxy left to protect.
Simple and straightforward plots aren't always a bad thing – so a predictable story isn't necessarily detrimental to a film. It's the journey that matters more than the destination, after all, and there's a fairly enjoyable journey in Men in Black: International. H (Chris Hemsworth) and M (Tessa Thompson) have excellent rapport, providing the sort of buddy cop movie shenanigans that we're used to from the Men in Black film series. There's a slight hint of romance, but not so much that it devolves into romantic melodrama (which isn't what the franchise is known for anyway).
While Men in Black: International does try to integrate a fair bit of exposition and backstory by making M the newbie in the film (hence requiring everyone to explain the series' premise and important terms to her), it doesn't exactly flesh out H's character as much as it should. All we know about H is what other characters say about him – it's a classic case of telling, rather than showing. While Hemsworth does work admirably with the material he's been given, the fact is that he isn't given quite as much material as he should. And this is important, because the protagonist's nature is an integral part of the plot. The script needed a fair bit of reworking to give us a convincing and comprehensible protagonist.
The major problem is, however, the story. For a film that's purportedly about an Earth-based organisation protecting the peace and providing assistance to alien refugees on our planet, we don't really see all that many aliens. We don't really get the sense that the planet (or the galaxy) is in any real danger. We don't get the idea that this sequence of events is important (unlike those in previous Men in Black films)... because it isn't. A faceless alien race will be triumphant, true, but the same could be said of literally any movie about an alien invasion.
Men in Black: International's stakes aren't any different from what has come before. And for a film franchise that prides itself on being fresh, revolutionary, and distinct, this makes the story incredibly bland. It's almost as if it were an AI-generated plot, with the requisite action scenes and dramatic beats keyed in to generate the story. There's no sense of scale or meaning to the events in the movie, which means that you don't really care about it that much. In fact, the plot devolves into an odd tangle of unimportant developments in the middle of the film, as if it were stalling for time as it lurched towards the inevitable ending.
Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson are wonderful in their roles as High T and Agent O, giving us a fair bit of world-building as they drop hints and references to offscreen events in the movie. Unfortunately, it's the supporting character with the most screen time that's the most grating - Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani), a small green CGI alien that is as whiny as it is ugly. The film tries to impress upon you that it's a cute and lovable alien (that's presumably toyetic) in nature, but do you really want to watch a nasal, toyol (a demonic Malay imp) with leathery green skin?
Men in Black: International is average, but that's not quite good enough for a franchise that has impressed us so much previously. It needed to be more slick, stylish, and sensible, rather than ticking off checkboxes on an action film template. Agents H and M were great, and the rest of the film should have focused more on than their relationship rather than all the other awkward elements that were incorporated. As it stands, it’s rather uninspiring.
Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.
Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? No.
Running time: 115 minutes
Men in Black: International is a science fiction action comedy that's the fourth instalment in the Men in Black film franchise.
The film centres on the London branch of the Men in Black and the pairing between a seasoned, celebrated agent and his rookie partner. What seems to be a simple mission leads them down a rabbit hole of devious aliens, mysterious assassinations, and curious coincidences. They soon discover that this time, more than the Earth is at stake.
Men in Black: International is directed by F. Gary Gray, and written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway. It stars Chris Hemsworth (Agent H), Tessa Thompson (Agent M), Rebecca Ferguson (Riza), Rafe Spall (Agent C), Emma Thompson (Agent O0), Liam Neeson (High T), Laurent and Larry Bourgeois (The Twins), with the voice talents of Kumail Nanjiani (Pawny) and Tim Blaney (Frank the Pug). It is rated PG-13.
Men in Black: International opens in cinemas:
- 13 June, 2019 (Singapore)
- 12 June, 2019 (Philippines)
Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.
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