Men in Black: International (2019)

2020 #85
F. Gary Gray | 115 mins | Blu-ray | 2.00:1 | USA & China / English | 12 / PG-13

Men in Black: International

When Men in Black: International* hit cinemas last summer, many, many, many critics used a neuralyzer-related pun prominently in their review. (Someone did a Twitter thread compiling all the near-identical jokes. It reached 120 examples.**) For those unfamiliar with the MIB franchise, the neuralyzer is a small device that can wipe people’s memories, used by the MIB to keep their activities secret. The repetitive and inevitable joke was that International is so bad you’ll want to be neuralzyed afterwards. Now, I swear the film itself is trying to get in on the gag: the only photo printed on its disc is of a neuralyzer, as if the Blu-ray itself is going to wipe your memory when you take it out of your player. If only it did…

International is essentially a spin-off from the previous trilogy of MIB movies: whereas they followed Agents J and K (Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones) on adventures in New York, this time we follow newbie Agent M (Tessa Thompson) as she’s relocated to London and paired with hot-shot-agent-gone-off-the-boil H (Chris Hemsworth) on a globetrotting adventure to unearth a mole in MIB.

Reinvigorating the franchise with new blood isn’t a bad idea. The third film was a marked improvement on the second, but neither recaptured the glories of the first, and K and J’s story was pretty well played out. Hemsworth and Thompson are good picks for the leads, too, given he displayed noteworthy comedic chops in the Ghostbusters reboot and the pair had clear chemistry in the well-liked Thor: Ragnarok.

Back in black

But clear-eyed plans alone don’t make a good movie, as Men in Black: International proves. It’s not that the movie is bad per se, it’s just mediocre; bland; uninspired. It’s devoid of wit or charm — which, considering the cast, is kind of remarkable. I mean, it’s not just Hemsworth and Thompson — two appealing, capable leads. There’s also Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson, and Rebecca Ferguson pops up (I didn’t even know she was in it ’til she did), and there’s Rafe Spall (limited by having to be a blatant red herring), and the voice of Kumail Nanjiani. Whoever’s your favourite out of that talented cast, they’re wasted. Neeson is a particular bit of miscasting. Calling the head of London branch “High T” is a perfectly adequate joke, playing on Britishness and poshness… until you cast a guy with a pronounced Northern Irish accent, which just kills the gag dead. Nanjiani fares best as the voice of a little CGI creature, who’s probably meant to be cute but errs more towards annoying, though I didn’t hate him.

Of course I didn’t hate him — nothing in this movie is emotive enough to be hate-worthy. But by being so bland, it becomes objectionable. MIB2 wasn’t great, but at least it was kind of entertaining in its poorness. International is playing it so safe that you can’t even groan at it, or be delighted when something half-decent emerges from the mire, or be amused by it in spite of itself.

I guess this is what happens when you hire a primarily action director to helm a movie that should primarily be a comedy. F. Gary Gray did start off his career with a comedy, Friday, but that was 25 years ago. He’s better known for the likes of The Negotiator, the Italian Job remake, Law Abiding Citizen, and The Fate of the Furious. He hasn’t turned this into a straight-up action movie — it does still try to be amusing — but it’s clear the focus is in a different place to before. It’s partly because it’s far too long and lacking in pace. It’s always stick in my mind that the director of the previous MIBs, Barry Sonnenfeld, once said he’s the only director whose Director’s Cut would be shorter than the original film because he’s always looking to strip things back. I suspect that may be part of why the previous movies worked, and it feels like International could really benefit from the same approach.

Cute and/or annoying CGI creature? Check

It certainly seemed to me like it was several more drafts away from completion. The twist is so obvious you can guess it just from looking at the cast list, underscored by a prologue that fades to white before it resolves and so may as well scream “what happened next is not what you’ll think”. More vitally, why is M a rookie agent? You’d think it would give an obvious and easy character arc, but that’s not really played. Instead, there are loads of times throughout the film where she Knows Stuff, so they have to explain it with “it says it in the handbook” or something similarly hand-wavy. The fact she managed to find the MIB, rather than them choosing to recruit her, is a cute origin but then has nothing to do with anything. It would’ve been better if she was a desk jockey forced out onto her first field assignment. Sure, that’s a tired characterisation too, but at least it’d be something a bit different for the franchise, and a bit more in keeping with how the movie wants to use her.

At one point it was mooted that this would be an MIB / Jump Street crossover movie, which was a barmy idea; but with MIB in need of a fresh start and Jump Street already being pretty immune to the fourth wall, it could’ve been great. At least it would’ve been different — even if it hadn’t’ve worked, they’d’ve tried something bold. Instead, they went for the much safer option of a straightforward soft reboot, and everything about International screams “safe”. Earlier I said it wasn’t bad, but by being so dull, well, it kinda is.

2 out of 5

Men in Black: International is available on Sky Cinema from today.

* Don’t get me started on that colon in the title. I could practically write an essay just about that choice. ^
** Most of the critics took it well, apparently. ^

Men in Black 3 (2012)

2017 #167
Barry Sonnenfeld | 106 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | USA / English | PG / PG-13

Men in Black 3

Maybe it’s something to do with my age, but when Men in Black II came out it felt like a bit of a belated sequel to the mega-hit Men in Black — it had been five years, after all, which is quite a long time for a comedy sequel. Well, Men in Black 3 was another ten years after that… As it turns out, MIB2 is a kind of typical first sequel: memorable-but-small characters get massively increased roles; things are referenced just for the sake of referencing them; jokes are repeated or amped up. MIB3 is more like the typical belated sequel: it stands somewhat divorced from the first two, with the minor stuff all gone, and some more significant changes necessitated by the passing of time.

What hasn’t changed are the leads, Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) — although the latter’s about to, because when an alien criminal he locked up in the ’60s escapes from prison and travels back in time, K is wiped from existence. As the only one who can remember K, it’s up to J to also travel back to the ’60s, rescue the younger K (Josh Brolin), and also save the Earth.

MIB3’s biggest problem is that it’s not funny enough. The first two were sci-fi comedies with the emphasis on the comedy, whereas this is more of a light sci-fi adventure. In some respects it tries to substitute emotional weight for the lack of laughs, aiming for a pay-off that’s designed to put a cap on the whole trilogy. It kind of works, I suppose, but it also feels like a bit of an ill fit. It’s nice that the film’s trying something different, I suppose, but I’d rather the tone was closer to the other movies — more humour, tighter pacing. Director Barry Sonnenfeld used to have an obsession with making his movies shorter (I remember he once said he’d be the only director where a “director’s cut” would actually mean a truncated version of the movie). I don’t know if he’d given up on that notion by 2012, but trimming ten minutes out of this likely wouldn’t hurt.

Someone forgot the dress code...

The best bit is definitely Brolin as Young K, doing a bang-on impression of Tommy Lee Jones while also adding enough to make the part his own. As for the rest of the new cast members, Emma Thompson’s role is fine if you consider her appearance no more than a cameo, but Alice Eve is underused as her younger self. Jemaine Clement chews the scenery double-time as the villain, while the always excellent Michael Stuhlbarg has a fun supporting role as a character who can see all possible futures.

MIB3 is not as weak as the much-maligned first sequel (which I don’t hate as much as some, but it isn’t great), but it can’t equal the freshness of the original, either. Little surprise it didn’t lead to a full-blown revival of the franchise… though, as it still did well at the box office and the series’ popularity endures, it’s also no surprise we’ll be getting a spin-off-ish fourth movie next summer.

3 out of 5

The Global Monthly Update for November 2017

Multiple helpings of Eastern action, French sci-fi, German horror, South American-themed Disney, a double-dose of Batman and, appropriately, a 3D trio all feature in my viewing for the penultimate month of 2017.


#152 Candyman (1992)
#153 Batman vs. Two-Face (2017)
#154 Awakenings (1990)
#155 Rurouni Kenshin 3: The Legend Ends (2014), aka Rurōni Kenshin: Densetsu no Saigo-hen
#156 Passengers 3D (2016)
#157 Justice League (2017)
#158 The Great Wall 3D (2016)
#159 Zatoichi the Fugitive (1963), aka Zatôichi kyôjô-tabi
#160 Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets 3D (2017)
#161 Saludos Amigos (1942)
#162 Tea for Two (1950)
#163 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), aka Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari
The Great Wall

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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  • 12 new films this month mean that November isn’t 2017’s worst (a dishonour retained by September’s 10), but it’s far from its best (it’s 9th out of 11).
  • That’s below the 2017 average (previously 15.1, now 14.8) and the rolling average for the last 12 months (previously 14.58, now 14.42). Oh well.
  • On the bright side, it beats my November average, in the process raising it from 8.44 to 8.8. That means it’s still one of three months with an all-time average below 10, but if I watch 11 films in November 2018 then that’ll change.
  • Also, further to what I was saying in July about dates on which I’ve never watched a film, November 4th is now also struck off the list. Hurrah!
  • Zatoichi the Fugitive is my second Zatoichi film this year. That means that since I started watching the 25-film series in 2013 I’ve averaged… 0.8 films a year. Oh dear. If I maintain that rate I won’t finish until 2044.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: supposedly the first true horror film and the most famous example of German expressionism, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. While it’s very atmospheric, I don’t think it entirely holds up.
  • No WDYMYHS film this month. There’s only one left though, so next month it is.



The 30th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
This month wasn’t an all-timer for quality — while I did enjoy most of the films I watched, very little jumps forward as a solid gold favourite. It comes down to a toss-up between two 2017 releases that each met with critical indifference but which I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy very much, especially with 3D really showing off their spectacle. On balance, I think the more interesting was Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
In a mirror image to the above, there was nothing truly terrible. This category is considerably easier to decide on, though, because I was so thoroughly disappointed by Batman vs. Two-Face.

Most Underrated ’90s Film of the Month
Sure, not enough people talk about Awakenings (as I wrote in my review), but I was even more surprised to find that Candyman is a highly atmospheric horror movie that deserves to be better remembered.

Biggest Missed Obvious Solution of the Month
Considering they reshot almost all of his scenes anyway, they should’ve just had Superman be reborn with Henry Cavill’s silly moustache in Justice League. I mean, maybe it wouldn’t’ve been a good idea, but it’d’ve been a laugh.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
For the fifth time this year, this award goes to the TV roundup. The headliner, and undoubtedly what attracted the most views, was Stranger Things 2. Also in the post was Peaky Blinders series three — another series that I know draws a lot of hits. It was further bolstered by covering Red Dwarf XII and an episode of Rick and Morty, plus Arrow, Bounty Hunters, Castle, Detectorists, The Flash, The Good Place, and Upstart Crow. (The highest new film review was Justice League at 9th.)



#41 Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
#42 Baby Driver (2017)
#43 Spider-Man: Homecoming 3D (2017)
#44 Men in Black (1997)
#45 Men in Black II (2002)

I hadn’t intended to embark on the Men in Black trilogy, particularly, but at a loss one night I settled on rewatching the first because why not? That led to the sequel, but not the third as yet. I’ve never seen it, so maybe next month.


I’ve written a list, I’m checking it twice — not of who’s been naughty or nice, but of films I intended to watch in 2017 and haven’t got round to yet. La La Land, Your Name, the new Beauty and the Beast… it goes on much longer than that. How many will I get through?

Plus: thirteen days to go ’til a galaxy far, far away…