Together they have to protect a piece of powerful alien techno-and you've already stopped reading.
There are bad aliens. Thor and Valkyrie kill them. The end. No Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones cameos.
I've been trying to come up with something to introduce this review. So here is the music video for 'Men in Black'.
Best to keep it playing - it will be more fun than this review.
What a hollow movie.
What a bland, uninteresting, cookie-cutter release date-in-cinematic-form movie.
This franchise had one good story and while the initial sequels were successful they never captured the strange magic of the first movie: the chalk and cheese dynamic of smith and jones; the deadpan style of Barry Sonnenfeld; the great Vincent D’Nofrio as the villain. With this iteration, we get a sliver of a maybe-interesting idea for a main character, and that’s about it for unique ideas.
Admittedly, the first movie is a pretty slim proposition - the plot barely exists (and was basically re-written in post-production) - yet the ingredients already listed make up for it. This movie sadly proves that Men in Black should have stayed at just one movie.
From the jump something is off - we get another extended title sequence but this one does not end on a joke or really add to the story. And then we get two flashbacks, which do no help: we open on a scene set in 2016, and then transition to another scene in 1998, and then back to the present. It is bizarre, and while the scenes provide important info for our heroes, the scenes feel disconnected from each other, and do not really pay off in satisfying ways.
What makes it worse is that there are moments where it feels like this movie could be way more fun than it is. Once the movie shifts into the present, it feels like the filmmakers are setting up a really cool premise - what if a kid grew up wanting to be a MIB (or a WIB), and actively tried to break in? This is the way we are introduced to Tessa Thompson's Agent M aka Molly, a young woman who witnessed the Men in Black and an alien in action when she was a child, and became obsessed with joining the secretive organisation.
These early scenes are kind of fun - we get a montage of Molly crashing out of interviews for various government agencies because she keeps asking about the guys in black suits, and then a sequence showing her figuring out how to sneak into MIB HQ. Once she breaks into the building the movie's problems become very obvious.
The big issue is that the movie feels in a hurry, and does not allow anything to grow organically. Thompson's discovery and infiltration of MIB headquarters is so fast, and so easy, and followed so quickly by her becoming an agent, the movie loses what little motivation her character has. She wanted to become an MIB agent - and she does. Sure, she is on probation, but at no point through the rest of the movie does it feel like she is growing and learning how to become an agent. No big obstacles and no real stakes make this movie weightless.
While Thompson is a winning presence, she cannot compensate for how underwritten this character is. Throughout the movie I found it difficult to follow her motivations and to really get a sense of her personality. What does she want? What does she need? We never really find out.
The same goes for her co-star: Chris Hemsworth is an agent who has lost his spark, and has grown careless. Sadly the movie chickens out on making him a real loser - he is still too cool and smart. He never screws up in a big way. Even this shoddy characterisation is for nought because the big obvious twist completely negates his (slim) need for redemption.
In a franchise built on the rapport between two main characters, it is ironic that this movie completely fails in this respect. Neither character starts in a solid place, they don’t really learn anything, and they win at the end because of the actions of a minor character. If they committed to the idea of these characters - a gifted amateur who nobody believed in; a veteran who has lost his motivation - it could have worked. The idea of a character coasting because he already did something heroic, and having to humble himself, could be interesting.
Heck, it would have been funnier if it turned out Thompson is a natural at the job and Hemsworth is unmasked as a useless bro who has been getting by on charm and good luck.
Thompson and Hemsworth do their best, but the script does not give their characters or relationship enough definition to really click. What makes it worse is the ham-fisted way the movie tries to wedge in some romantic tension right at the end of the movie. It is already cliche as hell that subtext is never present in their relationship prior.
On top of its bland-erised characters, the movie is not really about anything thematically. Initially it feels like the movie will be taking a swing at current fights over immigration: Rafe Ifans, Agent C, speaks about aliens in very deragotory terms. It sets you up to expect that he will turn out to be some kind of Trumpian threat - the idea of a xenophobic MIB is interesting, but this turns out to be a character trait that just serves to make H look better when C points out signs of trouble. This aspect of the character is pretty much forgotten once the true villain is unmasked, and C turns out to be on the side of angels.
Once again, the movie takes a punt on turning its established formula on its head.
Past MIB movies are famous for their incidental pleasures (Frank the pug; the various denizens of New York), but this movie features few of the same fun details - Kumail Nanjiani plays a tiny alien soldier who becomes M's bodyguard; there's an alien masquerading as a beard.
F. Gary Gray's direction makes a fatal error of all franchise starters (or re-starters): he does not take the time to build and reveal the world - the movie is moving too fast, and introduces locations through wide shots which the characters then walk into. We are never aligned with Molly’s POV as she discovers this hidden world. There is never any sense of tension, or any really great punchlines to any of the jokes (the 'best' of which are in the trailers).
Despite the number of locations (or because of them) the movie never establishes a unique identity. One of the key things from the original is how specific it is to New York. Here, the movie flirts with James Bond-style location-hopping but never makes that interesting. Rebecca Ferguson shows up as a wealthy arms dealer with an island fortress, but the most noteworthy aspect of her character is that she has a third arm. That’s it.
And the lack of practical effects is really felt. None of the creatures or environments feel lived-in or tangible. Even exterior scenes feel canned and limited in scope. Men in Black 3 is a mess but I feel like this movie is going to age worse - its greatest weakness is not that it is bad, it is just incredibly generic in almost every respect.
The one minor highlight is the score (duties shared by Danny Elfman and Chris Bacon), which recalls Elfman's themes from the previous movies.
I would like to give the movie some kudos (half a kudo?) for resisting the urge to include a pop-in from Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones. Whether it was scheduling, money or a creative choice is irrelevant, but it is a testament to how little this movie sparked that I was kinda-hoping the movie would pull a Marvel and feature them in a mid-credit stinger.
If you are looking for an easy rental in a couple months, Men in Black: International will suit your needs. But it is not worth going out to the theatre.
Here's hoping Hemsworth and Thompson get to re-team on something else. They have good chemistry in Thor: Ragnarok and the same is true here. They need a Thin Man or something.
If you are looking for a good Tessa Thompson movie, wait till Little Woods comes out next week.
If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on the British girl group the Sugababes, cleverly entitled SugaBros.
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