Director: F Gary Gray
Stars: Tessa Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson, Chris Hemsworth
I’ve been accused of contrariness before, and in fairness not without reason. Fine. But here at The Lost Highway Hotel, the name Will Smith is synonymous with entirely smug, borderline unwatchable goofiness. See also Barry Sonnenfield. As a result, the Men In Black franchise has, from this writer’s openly biased perspective, given us a catchy pop jingle and precious little else. The last thing it needed was to be perpetuated. But the announcement of this offshoot actually piqued interest.
Two reasons. Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth.
Anyone who caught them together in Taika Waititi’s DUPLO-coloured Marvel movie Thor: Ragnarok knows that the young duo have chemistry in spades. Both stars are in their ascendance, and if any flagging franchise needed an injection of new blood, it was this one. Speaking of which, Sonnenfield has passed the reigns to journeyman director F Gary Gray. Not exactly reassuring, but neither the cause for outright panic.
Then the (not-so) advanced word came: stop being optimistic, Men In Black International is a dud. Damn.
But I went anyway.
Now, there are strong arguments in favour of letting this one be. The gargantuan charisma of its two leads is by no means maximised to its full potential. The story is generic in a sub-Bondian way (complete with a wearisomely unoriginal uber-weapon MacGuffin). And there’s a nagging sense throughout that this is an editorial hatchet job.
But in spite of all this, MIB International is the least grating – and therefore best – entry so far. A little skinny on the set-up and I’ll get on to why.
Meet Molly (Tessa Thompson). As a child, Molly had her own close encounter with the titular folk in dark glasses, only she evaded the memory wipe shtick. As a result, she grew up obsessed with tracking down the shady government agency with all the answers to the cosmos. Taking time out from working in a call centre, Molly finally gets her wish. Now a knowledgeable whiz, she impresses head-honcho O (Emma Thompson) enough to get herself enlisted on a probationary basis. Turns out all you have to do is literally walk in. Anyway, first assignment: the London office.
Assigned as Agent M, Molly meets H (Hemsworth). H, a notorious, buffoonish hero, spies an opportunity in M and takes her out on assignment. It’s not long before H & M (really?) encounter all manner of nefarious intergalactic tomfoolery, including the aforementioned mega-powerful MacGuffin, a pair of pretty cool amorphous alien dudes and a small talking chess piece voiced by Kumail Nanjiani. Trips to Paris, Naples and Marrakesh lend credence to the ‘International‘ side of things, while the film also takes time out to lend its voice to this summer’s patronising trend in “girl power” lip service that’s landed with a thud in both Avengers: Endgame and X-Men: Dark Phoenix already. Go team.
Not sounding any better, right? But there are reasons to give this one a chance, superficial and flimsy though they may be. Top of the tree are the two leads. While there’s little of the spark between these two that there could’ve been, separately they remain eminently watchable (and its tough to pick who looks sexier in the trademark MIB uniform). Hemsworth’s character is undersold – there’s no reason to believe he’s actually capable of anything. Fortunately, Thompson fairs much better. Molly/M has pluck and gumption and those things make for easy watching.
And ‘easy watching’ is the get-out-of-jail-free card hidden in MIB: International‘s inside pocket. It’s the faintest of praise, but as light, breezy popcorn-y summer flicks go… this is a safe bet straight down the line.
Let’s talk about dining. Once in a blue moon you might find yourself at a higher class of restaurant than you’re ordinarily used to and the food simply blows your mind. Wow. “How do I not eat like this all the time?” you ask yourself. But of course you don’t and you can’t eat like that all the time. It’s an indulgence. A treat. And it’s an experience, from the cultivated mood in the establishment to the food that’s been ornately assembled on your plate. This is high-end cinema. Okay?
But even if you could dine like that all the time… you’re not going to want to. Sometimes you want something quick and cheap and easy where you’re not expected to appreciate the finery of what goes along with it. It’s a drive-thru Big Mac meal or a pizza that you got delivered with a coupon. It’s salty and its processed and you know it makes you complicit in some greater, probably-awful machinery… But you just want to eat the thing and not think about it. This is Men In Black: International. Okay?
It’s snack food. It’s just food. And it has its time and place and, when you’re ready for that, its there. It’s just there. And unlike a Big Mac meal, Men In Black: International also happens to feature 10 astonishingly bizarre minutes of Rebecca Ferguson as a femme fatale alien arms dealer with three arms.
You’re not going to be able to order that on Deliveroo.
It’s light entertainment, folks, and that’s all it was ever designed to be. Sure, I can’t stop wondering things like “What do they call all the other agents in the background, as there are clearly more than 26 of them…?” or “Why are all the doors and windows left open in that secure fortress…?” But that shit doesn’t matter. The talking chess piece is amusing. Tessa Thompson makes me smile. Chris Hemsworth takes his shirt off. And most importantly around here: WILL SMITH ISN’T IN THIS ONE. What else, exactly, were you expecting?
And is anyone else hungry?