Women in Solid Black: A Review of 'Men In Black: International'
You know it’s 2019, and we’re living in the age of political correctness and women empowerment, when a spin-off from the Men In Black film franchise will have Agents M (Tessa Thompson) and Agent O (Emma Thompson, no relation) as the strongest, most solid characters in the film. Men In Black: International is the film, and the setting, for the most part, takes place in the MIB London office, where Agent T (Liam Neeson) is in charge, and his most valued Agent and protege is H (Chris Hemsworth).
Directed by F. Gary Gray, whose credits include Straight Outta Compton and Fast & Furious 8, MIB: International is the 4th installment of the film franchise — Barry Sonnenfeld directed the 1997 original, and the 2002 and 2012 sequels. True to its science fiction/fantasy/comedy roots, this new film really hinges its success on the mix of aliens, chemistry between its lead stars, and threats to our world. If Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones set the template for how deadpan comedy would be the driving force in the first three films, this time out, the twist is the pairing of Hemsworth and Thompson as our main protagonists.
We’ve seen the dynamic between these two in films such as Thor: Ragnarok and in Avengers: Endgame; so the cat and dog sniping that goes on, the verbal foreplay, and the ‘deep down we know they actually like each other’ scenario that all play out, do so like a pair of old shoes — comfortable and natural. It’s in fleshing out Agent M that the film hits its stride in the first part of the film. As a young girl, she would read Stephen Hawking to fall asleep, and actually had an encounter with an alien. So it’s inevitable that rather than waiting to be a recruit, she would harbor this desire to be the first to enlist at MIB.
As the story goes into full swing, it’s entertaining to watch the wide-eyed, idealistic enlistee pair up with the lone gun, spontaneous, ‘I’ll get by on my looks and charm’ veteran. The scene-stealer throughout the film has to be Pawny (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani, remember him in the hilarious and wonderful The Big Sick?), an alien, best described as an anthropomorphic chess piece. Whenever the story drags, or we’re left waiting for the obvious to finally happen, it’s Pawny who keeps things interesting with his quips and asides. He fills up the holes of what is a rather pedestrian storyline.
Beyond Nunjiani’s scene-stealing, Hemsworth once again shows his sparking penchant for comedy — which we saw in Ghostbusters and Ragnarok. And it’s Tessa Thompson who shines brightest in this film. But if there is a flaw in how she’s portrayed, it would be that there are no flaws. She’s solid and central to the film’s theme; but whereas Will Smith’s charm in the previous films would emanate from how with his heart in the right place, he would constantly make mistakes and wrong decisions, International seems to be much too careful in making Tessa Thompson’s Agent M too perfect.
International is fun most of the time; but it doesn’t quite capture the vibe and fun of the first films. It’s got a number of components right, and Hemsworth and Thompson are always fun to watch, but there are times you wished for a brisker editing. And I loved how it was the two Thompson women who emerge as the ones holding the future of this fresh spin-off.
Photos from Sony Pictures