MOVIE REVIEW: New Men in Black forgot crucial factor
It would almost be better if Men in Black: International was a total disaster.
Not just for clarity's sake, but because then it would have at least inspired a proper reaction. But as it stands, it's inoffensive and kind-of-OK?
Mildly entertaining but mostly shrug-worthy, this fourth instalment in the franchise is the first without series star Will Smith. The only carry-over from those earlier trio of MIB movies is Emma Thompson's Agent O, and Frank the Pug.
Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth headline a new generation of galaxy defenders protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe.
Thompson's Agent M witnessed her parents being neuralised by MIB agents when she was a wee girl in Brooklyn. Ever since then, the whip-smart M has been trying to crack her way in, applying for the FBI and the CIA with a little wink-wink before being dismissed as delusional.
When she finally finds her way into MIB's secret New York headquarters, she finagles a job as a probationary agent. O sends her to the London office to help with a vague, undefined problem.
In London, the cocky Agent H (Hemsworth) is the hero who saved Earth from The Hive, a vile tentacled creature that tried to invade our planet through a portal hidden inside the Eiffel Tower.
But H isn't who he used to be and spends his time napping at his desk, making orgy jokes and generally being very Chris Hemsworthy. It's the kind of overconfident tomfoolery that's essentially Thor-lite.
When M and H find themselves in possession of a MacGuffin, entrusted to them by a dying alien ally, the agents end up being chased by their own side as well as a pair of writhing smoke alien twins (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) around London, Marrakech, Naples and, eventually, Paris.
Even though Hemsworth and Thompson had great on-screen chemistry in Thor: Ragnarok, here it's throttled. You only really get a hint of that spark when Pawny, a teeny-weeny alien joins the pair, and that's in large part due to comedian and Oscar-nominee Kumail Nanjiani's voice performance.
Nanjiani's unseen presence is a highlight, his wryness a welcome addition to a movie that consistently operates at a five out of 10 on the excitement scale - which is particularly odd given that Men in Black is a bonkers franchise.
Men in Black: International offers up its share of seemingly large-scale set pieces - a gunfight out the front of St Paul's Cathedral, a chase through a Marrakech market - but it all feels so tame and small, even when it's big.
Honestly, there's not enough things going splat, and there's definitely not enough goo. Where's the stomach-churning fun and grotesquerie of Vincent D'Onofrio's Edgar the Bug? The explosions here are as controlled and clean as the MIB universe's secret hyperloop train that gets you from New York to London in minutes.
This is Men in Black. It should be extravagant and nuts, not, well, civilised. It's like they forgot to have fun.
The performances, which also includes Rafe Spall, Liam Neeson and Rebecca Ferguson, are under-committed - you just wish director F. Gary Gray (Friday, Straight Outta Compton) had told everyone to ham it up 23 per cent more.
Neeson in particular seems to be sleepwalking his way through the movie - he may have cracked an expression at the 48th minute, but it was very hard to tell.
On the plus side, the alien visuals are very cool, the pacing doesn't drag and Tessa Thompson is doing what she can with the material she's got (and looks amazing in a black suit).
Perhaps a more accurate title for Men in Black: International should be Men in Black: Meh. It's so forgettable, you'll feel like you've been neuralised.
Men in Black: International is in cinemas now
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