Mib 123 (4): Men in Black International

After a close encounter changes her life for ever, Molly Wright dedicates herself to discovering the truth not just about aliens but the Men in Black. It takes her twenty three years but she finds them, finds proof. Impressed by the young woman’s drive, and perhaps desperate to change things up a bit, O offers her a job. Newly qualified, Agent M is seconded to London and gets herself assigned as H’s partner. H is a brilliant, heroic agent who…well…something is a little off about. And M is about to find out just what H’s problem is as it returns to Earth, bent on conquest…

I genuinely can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that was so passively entertaining and that missed every single target it aimed for. MiB International is a great idea, almost the perfect legacy sequel and it spends it’s entire first half walking up to some fascinating and timely issues. The evolution of the MiB from a police force to a diplomatic organisation, the collision between their reality and our reality, the idea that a field agent can make a mistake. All of these things are massively fertile ground for an entire movie’s worth of plot. The script, by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, is to be commended for getting M inside the building as fast as it does but honestly not terribly much else. Her training is reduced down to a montage, there’s no indication of any change whatsoever in the New York office since we were last there a decade ago and J and K are conspicuous by their absence. Seriously, while it makes sense to hang the movie off a different agent, the total lack of discussion of New York’s heroes plays as more than a little odd. Why is there a painting of their battle with Edgar in the London office but not the New York one? Are they both still active service? Is it, as heavily implied, the case that Molly is the first woman the MiB have recruited in DECADES? All these issues are perfect for a script to explore. Here, they’re postcards we glimpse on our way to the next set piece.

The same is true throughout. An intriguing conspiracy is quickly rendered down into a chase across the world to whichever location offered the best tax break. M gains a follower in Pawny, a minuscule alien warrior who is the only survivor of a massacre tied to their case. He’s voiced by Kumail Nanjani, he’s great and…he gets about six minutes of screen time, a worrying amount of which seems to have been added later and very little of which directly informs the plot. There’s a genuinely interesting sub plot involving C, the endlessly competent MiB London agent who is sick of H being covered for and is the notional bad guy for the first couple of acts. His disgust at H’s incompetence is really interesting and he’s played by Rafe Spall who has no idea how to do bad work. Of all the characters, he and M are the two that have an actual arc you can hang onto and like every other part of the movie that works there just isn’t enough of it. Likewise Rebecca Ferguson’s brief appearance as an alien arms dealer. It’s fun stuff but it feels like marking time rather than moving the story forward.

That’s what you get, again and again. A movie that feels like it has good ideas trapped behind glass, a movie whose edges are blunted but that thinks they’re razor sharp. This is never truer than of H, played by Chris Hemsworth. Sometimes he’s a mostly-competent Bond analogue. Sometimes he’s a not especially competent MiB. He’s never quite Anything, especially the burnt out danger to himself and others we keep being told he is. A lot of the time people are angry at him for not being as good as he used to be. That would be both funny and plot driving if at any point he was allowed believable extremes of behavior. One of the first times we see this ‘burnout’ he dismantles a room full of alien criminals with ease. At another we see him suave his way into a nightclub and be greeted like a hero. It’s like the movie wants us to believe he’s off but doesn’t quite trust Hemsworth to play that. Which, after Endgame especially, just makes no sense.

Worst of all, this is a movie that lacks every conviction to deal with it’s core issue; immigration. The previous films have gone out of their way to show the beauty and complexity of diverse cultures This one throws some effects into a white room at Elstree and waits for applause. There’s no sense of nuance, no exploration beyond the surface of these vital, timely issues. Like the MiB it depicts, this is a film adrift, content to do whatever’s in front of it until it’s time to come home. This is a series that opens with a very unusual border crossing incident. It’s a series where an entire movie is powered by the past’s inability to take a black man seriously as an authority figure. It’s a series which embraces wonder and horror in equal portion, rendering them down into monochromatic cultural armor. It’s a series most of all, that deserves much, much better than this movie. 

Check out Simon Brews’ excellent Film Stories for a look at just what went wrong.