Sequels disguised as reboots seem to have redefined the word ‘reboot’ itself, to the point where no one actually understands what the word means anymore. Twenty or thirty years ago, a ‘reboot’ would’ve been what you would have had to do when your computer had ceased to function properly, or at all. These days, a ‘reboot’ refers to what happens when a franchise ceases to function properly, or at all. What happens when the reboot itself ceases to properly function? Director F. Gary Gray’s MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL is likely the best example of such a situation.
In a somewhat jumbled series of flashbacks, we are taken to what seems to be the defining moments of the lives of our two new protagonists of this current “reboot.” A young (future agent) Molly, after assisting with the escape of a rogue extra-terrestrial being, witnesses the mind-wiping methods of the Men In Black; her parents being the victims. We flash forward twenty or so odd years later, as she attends interview after awkward interview, attempting to enlist through various government agencies as they mentally scramble trying to decipher just what the hell she’s talking about. What do you do when you fail proper entry to the world’s most secret of secret organizations? Apparently, you simply put on a black suit and sunglasses and waltz right in as if you’re the owner of the building. What do you do if you happen to run the world’s most secret of secret organizations and some random unauthorized person just walks into the main location? It would seem you humor them quite humorlessly for a few minutes, before “reluctantly” hiring them.
Returning from the previous films, Emma Thompson’s Agent O, sensing major problems with the London office, decides it would be a brilliant idea to send the new unseasoned “recruit” across the sea to get to the bottom of the perceived problem. Upon arrival, our young agent insistently chooses her own assignment based on her own physical attraction to an established agent. From here on out, the chemistry between Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth becomes not only the highlight of the movie, but the only thing holding together what becomes a sad mishmash of MEN IN BLACK and KINGSMEN: THE SECRET SERVICE. Hemsworth portrays Agent H as a bumbling serviceman of former greatness now reduced to a punchline, in an odd parallel to the film itself. Molly leads him along with more understanding of the events unfolding around them than anyone inside or outside of the film. It’s quite a feat that Thompson rises above this cinematic mess and convincingly sells the role, not because the concepts of the plot are difficult to understand, but because there isn’t much plot to have concepts of. In a perfect world, Thompson would be the senior agent guiding Hemsworth’s character around, as she’s ten times more appealing as a character than his bumbling fool. Not that Hemsworth is necessarily to blame, but as written, he’s outshined by even the main CGI character.
MEN IN BLACK was never really a high-concept film series. It’s unfair to say it has a wafer-thin plot. It’s unfair to say it doesn’t have a good story. It’s unfair to say that most of its characters are underwritten. It’s unfair to say that it doesn’t make sense. It’s not that kind of a movie. People will like it anyway. So why is it unfair to judge it as such? Why can’t it make sense? Why can’t it have mostly well-realized characters? Why can’t it have a good story? There are other silly comedies with good stories. Although the audience did seem to be entertained, it didn’t function well as even a decent comedy. We live in an age where mere pop-culture references successfully pass as jokes. and what we have here is no exception. I don’t mean clever “get it or you don’t” references, I mean on-the-nose direct mentions. The name ‘Kanye West’ is used as a punchline, and not in the way you think it would be. The writers don’t seem to understand how to use twists, as the film makes almost no attempt to hide any of them. What you think is going to happen is pretty much what’s going to happen: Almost as if the twists made too much sense. Not that anything else made too much sense.
I thought the film had hope upon hearing its choice of director, F. Gary Gray. It’s not unheard of when a director casts a relatively big studio film with the intention of using the core cast in a future project. I don’t know if that’s the case here, but that would certainly be a film I would want to see.
Tags: Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, Chris Bacon, Chris Hemsworth, Danny Elfman, Dogs, Emma Thompson, F. Gary Gray, Kumail Nanjiani, Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, Laurie MacDonald, Liam Neeson, Lowell Cunningham, Rafe Spall, Rebecca Ferguson, Reboots, Sequels, Stuart Dryburgh, Tessa Thompson, Tim Blaney, Walter Parkes