Film reviews

#536 – Men in Black: International (2019)

Men in Black: International (2019)

Film review #536

Director: F. Gary Gray

SYNOPSIS: Molly has been obsessed by finding out who the “Men in Black” are ever since she saw them and an alien as a child. She eventually tracks them down as an adult, and convinces them to let her join as a provisional agent. She is sent to London for training where she meets veteran Agent H, and the two inadvertently get caught up in an alien plot that threatens the whole world…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSISMen in Black: International is a 2019 sci-fi film and the fourth in the Men in Black franchise. The film focuses mostly on Molly, who when she was a young girl saw an alien in her home, and watched as the men in black came and neuralised her parents. Since then, she has been obsessed with finding out who they are, and about the existence of aliens. Now an adult, she manages to track them down and convince them to let her join. As a probationary agent she is sent to the London branch, where she meets Agent H, a veteran and hero of the branch. the two get involved in an alien plot that threatens the whole Earth, and only they can stop it. The film is a spin-off the the previous trilogy, with none of the characters from them making an appearance apart from one. The plot has most of the typical plot points you would expect from a Men in Black film, with the two agents having to protect a small alien artefact from evil aliens who intend on destroying the world. The plot generally takes a bit of a backseat role compared to the main characters and the general feel of the Men in Black doing their daily jobs, and the comedy that results form it. Unfortunately, this does not feel like a Men in Black film at too many points: the big action scenes are at odds with an agency that seems to be trying to keep their work a secret, the lore seems incompatible with the other films (such as the Eiffel Tower being built for a wormhole or some such, when the first contact with aliens was supposedly in the U.S. in the 60′s. Everything the characters do just doesn’t fit with what we know about the Men in Black. As a typical action film it has a variety of locations and some decent action, but again, just feels out of place. The story feels like a cheap imitation of the other films, and at nearly two hours, it goes on far longer than necessary. having the “international” element doesn’t really add anything new to the franchise, especially when the locations are ones we would typically see in films like this.

The biggest drawback in the film for me is the characters: the previous trilogy had some bumps, but was generally saved the chemistry between it’s two leads, which, while it wasn’t too original to pair a rookie and a veteran, they still generated plenty of strong interactions, comedy and emotions. Here, we get none of that. Molly as Agent M has a mix of personality traits that are jarring and don’t really endear her to her character: I get that she had to be different to a complete “rookie” so as to differentiate herself from Agent J, but her enthusiasm and obsession with the men in Black makes her an annoying character that just feels way out of her depth. Maybe it could have been interesting to contrast her extrovert enthusiasm with the secretive, repressed nature of the Men in Black agency, but I don’t think that has been accomplished here. Agent H is just…bland. I think he’s meant to be written like that partly, as the typical heroic and accomplished agent, but again, that heroic nature just doesn’t work in an agency that is supposed to be discreet and not stand out. The chemistry between them is just non-existent, and nothing ever develops between them. The aliens are altogether forgettable in their design, and supporting characters don’t leave a mark. There’s a fair amount of reviews that say the chemistry between the two is the only redeeming feature of the film, so your mileage may vary on this aspect. The only character that returns is O, the head of MiB, who is more or less the same as she was in Men in Black 3, which is not a bad thing, and we get a brief cameo of the worms and Frank the pug (Who are naughtily given prominent space on the poster despite being in the film for less than thirty seconds), but other than that, it all feels slightly disconnected to the franchise, and any attempt to build something new with the characters just falls flat.

As mentioned, there’s some okay action scenes and a variety of locations, but most of it feels like it doesn’t belong in the Men in Black franchise. I’m also not sure who the film is aimed at, as a lot of the more darker and complex elements have essentially been removed, so it feels less adult, but then again doesn’t seem like a film for younger audiences. The humour is way off the mark: I think I got a slight laugh at one joke: most of it is entirely predictable, and the banter between the two leads, which is supposed to be funny, just comes off as annoying and distracting. The film apparently had a troubled production and underwent numerous re-writes and tinkering, and it definitely shows: the film is all over the place, and not just literally in terms of locations. The film has the return of Danny Elfman for the music, and Steven Spielberg to produce alongside Barry Sonnenfeld (who directed the previous three films), but they just cannot save the script or offer a direction for the franchise. The original film was a tightly packed venture that, while not the best or most original film, was entertaining enough for a summer blockbuster, and built up a nice world for its characters to grow. Every sequel has been trying to match it, and they all fail to do so (Although Men in Black 3 does a good job in it’s own right). The constant recycling of the same plot has failed to give the franchise any room to grow, and while Men in Black: International tries to do some new things, it manages to change too much, so that it doesn’t feel like a Men in Black film for the most part. I appreciate that it it tries to create a new dynamic between the two leads that differentiates them from Agents J and K, but they just don’t come together to make something memorable or interesting (although I appreciate that they didn’t shoehorn in a romance subplot). The story is very thin and as mentioned, recycled, and it just feels like nobody knows what to do with this franchise after the first film over twenty years prior. The humour is predictable and never lands properly, the alien designs are uninspiring, and overall I don’t think there’s anything really interesting or entertaining enough to warrant a watch.  I would have to say this is the worse film in the franchise, even below Men in Black 2.