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film review

Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth star in Men in Black: International.Courtesy of Sony Pictures

  • Men in Black: International
  • Directed by F. Gary Gray
  • Written by Matt Holloway and Art Marcum
  • Starring Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth and Liam Neeson
  • Classification PG
  • 114 minutes
  • Rating: 0.5 stars out of 4

The tag line for the new Men in Black film is an astoundingly optimistic “The universe is expanding.” The idea being that this fourth entry, Men In Black: International, will be a new plank for a moribund franchise – an intellectual-property stepping stone that could, nay, must, lead studio Sony Pictures to claiming a rival to Disney’s wildly profitable and ever-elastic Marvel Cinematic Universe. Who needs original stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones when you have, um ... well, what does this new Men in Black Cinematic Universe offer, exactly? As evidenced by MiB:I, absolutely nothing of value.

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Whatever slivers of humour, fun and basic sense of wonder existed in director Barry Sonnenfeld’s first three MiB films – which diminished with every successive entry – are completely absent in this new film. Instead, new director F. Gary Gray takes the aesthetic template that Sonnenfeld established – slick, monochromatic set design contrasted against grotesque, splat-heavy creature effects – and scrubs it of anything remotely interesting. Our heroes still wear bespoke suits and sport the signature black Ray-Bans, and they still carry shiny and preposterously huge world-destroying gizmos, but every single frame looks washed out, tired, drab, pointless. Gray makes a bare-bones effort to conjure the original zip of Sonnenfeld’s gee-whiz world where a secret group of human superagents keep alien scum in line – mostly by employing Danny Elfman’s original bouncy score whenever possible – but he’s more interested in just pumping this sucker out and collecting his paycheque.

In keeping with the original Men in Black films, the film's heroes carry shiny and preposterously huge weapons.Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Take the film’s first 10 minutes: Gray and his screenwriters Matt Holloway and Art Marcum kicks things off with not one but two flashbacks, and in a nonsensical, chronologically backward order to boot. First, we’re in 2016, when MiB agents H (Chris Hemsworth) and T (Liam Neeson) are at the Eiffel Tower ready to kick some extraterrestrial butt. That mission quickly goes awry – and not just because the whole sequence looks incredibly cheap, as if CGI technology has somehow worsened between the first film and today – and then we jump further back in time to early-aughts Brooklyn, when a young girl named Molly witnesses MiB agents memory-wiping her parents.

Flash-forward, and the now-grown Molly (Tessa Thompson) is obsessed with tracking and then joining the MiB. That’s a potentially entertaining idea to push the brand forward: Instead of the usual save-the-world narrative, we could follow Molly as she goes on a treasure-hunt of sorts, shadowing the MiB organization around the globe as she seeks to understand the truth of the galaxy. But, nah. MiB:I instead has her quickly recruited into the force through the laziest training sequence ever committed to film – truly, it’s just Molly’s boss (Emma Thompson, sighing deeply) staring at a screen that says “Training Week 1” and “Training Week 2” – and then paired up with H in London. Yadda yadda yadda, the two end up having to save the world. And if you think my employment of “yadda yadda yadda” is unfair to the filmmakers, just wait until you spend $12 to see what I’m trying to save you from.

MiB:I does have one trick up its sleeve, though: It will make you feel terribly sad for impossibly sexy people. Hemsworth and Thompson, previously so well-matched in Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame, are a long way from the MCU here, looking adrift and near ready to burst into tears when confronted with the reality of what they signed up for. The two actors – again, preposterously excellent physical specimens – try their sorta-best to give their wan dialogue some kind of energy, but they are no match for this entirely predictable, wholly disposable product.

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Kumail Nanjiani voices a tiny alien named Pawny.Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Toward the end of MiB:I, when I started to question whether maybe I was missing something – perhaps the mess could be somewhat salvaged by Kumail Nanjiani’s enthusiastic voice work as Molly’s tiny little alien buddy? – I came to a realization. There, a few rows ahead of me in the screening, was some inconsiderate audience member who whipped out their phone. Normally, the sudden appearance of a bright screen within the hallowed hall of a darkened cinema would send me into a maddening rage. This time, I didn’t mind in the slightest.

Men in Black: International opens June 14.