‘Men in Black: International’ looks to take franchise global

June 22, 2019

The year 2019 seems like a much more timely period in which to recharge the batteries of the “Men in Black” franchise than back in 2012 (which was more of rights retaining issue, but back to that later). 

For we are at a peak time of conspiracy theories on YouTube, with everything from flat-Earth fools to those touting the California wildfires being created by a government laser beam. I won’t even mention the more dangerous falsities trotted out by anyone with a webcam and way too much spare time, but the internet is overpopulated with conspiracy-peddling pinheads who enjoy connecting imaginary dots. 

So “Men in Black: International” arrives at just the right time to poke fun at those boneheads who think Nicolas Cage and Jay-Z are ageless vampires, or “Saved by the Bell” carried illuminati messages, or that Avril Lavigne has been replaced by a doppelganger (sadly, I made up none of these examples). 

As its name implies, “Men in Black: International” looks to take the franchise global after the initial trilogy, which was desperately needed. For the original “Men in Black,” released in 1997 was goofy fun, marked by not only great chemistry from leads Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, but also an amazing supporting cast including Linda Fiorentino, Tony Shalhoub, and Vincent D’Onofrio in what I honestly consider some of the best acting I have ever witnessed. 

The followup films failed to move beyond its own universe, essentially copying all that made the first film work and dialing things up a bit. The third film seemed especially uninspired, partly because the film began shooting in 2011 without a script, as the director, producer, writer and one of its stars squabbled over the content.

“International” reteams “Thor: Ragnarok” veterans Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson together as the latest members of the quasi-governmental agency charged with monitoring all alien life on Earth. 

If you don’t remember all the nuances of the first few films, have no fear, “International” recycles nearly all of them once again: the alien-filled headquarters, the “neuralyzing” onlookers by looking into a glowy pen, and the unflappable ease our heroes pull the Earth from destruction. 

Despite its geographic relocation, there is not a single step “International” takes to widen its world. Thompson plays Molly, who witnessed her parents being neuralyzed after an alien encounter and has led a lifelong search for MiB headquarters. Where Smith’s character in the original was recruited because of his ability, Molly seems to have just unearthed it. 

Meanwhile, Agent H (played by Hemsworth) is merely coasting on his charm and, while competent, has become a bit of an agency joke. 

There are established agents (played by Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson), but neither are given any berth in which to allow their characters to establish personality beyond their desktop-slamming frustrations. 

The film lumbers on and ultimately reveals something of a plot, in which a mole is discovered within the agency. It’s so glaringly obvious as to the identity, that even novice filmgoers will be able to peg with culprit within seconds. 

Director F. Gary Gray has an eye for action, which was proven in his last film, the ludicrously fun “The Fate of the Furious.” But the man’s comedy chops could use more edge, and moments that should have comedic payoffs wind up squashed under a pile of poorly rendered visual effects.  

While much fills the screen during its runtime, none of it lands with any consequence, as though the filmmakers built in its own neuralyzing flash that makes you forget the film the second you walk out of the theater. 

Or maybe it’s part of a grander conspiracy that will be uncovered by a future YouTuber. It’s better to let them sift through it frame by frame than having to sit through “Men in Black: International” another time.

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society. Email him at

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