This dud wiped the memories of franchise fans back in June. How bad is it?
One of the more spectacular flame-outs of a summer riddled with poorly received sequels, MIB International was also the recipient of a thumping from critics. As part of a our Thanksgiving Leftovers series, we’ll take apart this turkey and try to see how bad it really was.
MIB: International (2019)
Molly (Tessa Thompson) experienced two fateful visits as a child: the first a cute, feathered little alien; the second from the Men in Black, who erase her parents’ memory of the creature, but miss Molly. She dedicates her life to learning the truth, graduating from FBI training and eventually tracking down the MIB headquarters.
As a new agent, she is sent to London amid fears that the International Department has been compromised. She is greeted by the bureau chief, High T (Liam Neeson) and partnered with the star agent, H (Chris Hemsworth). A high profile assassination of a visiting alien dignitary sparks a race against time to recover a powerful artifact.
What Went Wrong?
- Deja Vu. The fourth film in the franchise, International feels like a remix of the first MIB film, rather than a novel spin-off. We get a plucky new recruit paired up with a legendary agent within the bureau. Shape-shifting aliens come to town, looking for magic MacGuffin of infinite power. A royal dignitary is assassinated, putting Earth in danger of galactic war. The MIB blow the baddies up near an iconic monument. We get a bittersweet ending where the two heroes are split up. Voila, the plots to both movies.
It wouldn’t be so bad if International added new wrinkles, but it largely doesn’t. Instead, the plot opts to borrow some ideas from the second and third movie and call it good. It ain’t.
- Entitlements. Chris Hemsworth’s character, H, is utterly charmless. He’s brash, condescending, and smug. When it came to Thor, he was most of those things as well, but the script made it explicit that those were shields for his own insecurity, and that him being a joke was something he eventually was in on as well.
H doesn’t have that introspective note. He buys his own legend and coasts on the resulting privilege. When the story finally blows that legend to bits, the film tries to turn around and plead for sympathy. Fuck that. Entitled pretty boy failed upwards all movie long, don’t expect the audience or Molly to weep tears for his precious deflated ego.
Additionally, there’s no reckoning for his problematic use of women and coworkers as just means to his ends. He even gets a thumbs up from the other Agent he threw under the bus all movie long, and a big fat promotion at the end. Fucking failson.
- Subtle as a Brick. The one “new” idea this film trots out is to go for a double agent twist. It is handled in the most ham-fisted and gormless manner possible. The herrings for who it may be are so red they are practically wearing clown noses, and coma patient would guess in the first twenty minutes who it is. One character come right out and says “it’s never who you suspect.” Piss off, Sherlock, it’s exactly who we suspect when the script is this lazy.
What Went Right?
- The CG Works. The character designs for MIB International are solid. Not exactly inspired, but well executed. The other three films were a bit hit or miss, with some characters being fantastic (Frank the Pug) and others being flimsy (most of the critters just roaming MIB headquarters.) I can’t say MIB has ever really come up with a dazzling cosmology for their aliens, as most are one-shot creatures that never really reappear in the series. That’s a shame, but not really International’s fault.
The high-gloss, high-tech gear for the MIB is, again, solid. The weapon design doesn’t really feel any smarter than Nerf Guns spray-painted silver, but the modeling gives them heft. The vehicles are fun, if generic. The scene where they show how many guns are hidden in an MIB car was pretty cute.
- Tessa Thompson and Emma Thompson. The two Thompsons have a nice rapport in their scenes. Each time they interact, you get a feel for how the film could have recreated the dynamic of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. Unfortunately, they only share screen time at the beginning and end.
I liked Tessa Thompson, in general, but her “shy, cerebral, yet tough when pushed” character really only gets to stretch her wings when she’s bouncing off Emma Thompson. Her dynamic with H constantly back-benches Molly’s character.
- Redbox Gave Me a Free Coupon for This Movie. Yeah. I’m pretty much out of nice things to say about this film.
How Bad Is…MIB International?
Part of me wants to say the problem isn’t so much badness, but blandness. There’s no reason to see this movie. If you liked MIB, go watch the first and third movie instead. If you didn’t like MIB, why the hell would you waste your time with this uninspired take on the franchise?
I did find quite a bit of the movie that was actively bad, however. The unreflective, casual approval of H’s handsome, white male entitlement was so shockingly unwoke I could hardly believe it (though, it’s Hollywood, I totally believe the two white dudes who wrote this -and one of the Transformers movies – did not bat an eyelash that H had a natural right to acclaim and promotion despite being a total fuck up.) Fig leaf lines about “all women are queens” and why they’re still called “men” in black can’t excuse it.
The pilfering of the plot was shameless. The film does nothing to flesh out or deepen the idea of the MIB, other than they work globally. There’s no comedy in this comedy. There’s not much energy in the action sequences. The whole thing feels like an excuse to hold on to the copyright instead of actually make a film worth bothering with.