Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Men in Black: International: Review

Call me old-fashioned, but when I sit down for a movie that costs more than 100 million dollars and has little apparent artistic ambition, the least I’m hoping for is that my heart rate be jogged and my senses agitated. I’d take abject failure over bland competence, and Men in Black: International – 110 million dollars’ worth of amiable – is squarely in the second category.

A young girl named Molly watches from the window as MIB agents neuralyze her parents after an alien visits their home. Instead of scarring her for life, it gives her a purpose: she wants to be the one in a black suit, making others forget what they saw. Years later, Molly (Tessa Thompson) brazens her way into MIB headquarters, where she impresses head agent O (Emma Thompson) enough to get a try-out. Christened Agent M, she’s sent to MIB’s London office, where she ends up assisting Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), who – like any good loose cannon – tells her he works alone and doesn’t need a partner. Soon, they’re in possession of an alien weapon and being hunted by a pair of paranormal twins and the MIB itself.

Thompson and Hemsworth worked well together in Thor: Ragnarok, but their chemistry here isn’t as crackling. When H delightedly tells M, after they talk their way out of a tight spot, that they were “riffing", it made me smile sadly at the gulf between Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn completing each other's sentences in Bringing Up Baby and the awkward comedy in the scene before. Part of the reason might be that the workmanlike F Gary Gray is in charge; it had taken talented comic directors like Taika Waititi and Paul Feig to draw out Hemsworth’s goofiness in Ragnarok and Ghostbusters. It’s notable that the one person who’s consistently funny in the film – Kumail Nanjiani as the voice of a chess pawn who dedicates himself to M – is someone who does it for a living and might not have needed direction as much as the two stars.

There’s one big twist in the movie, but writers Art Marcum and Matt Holloway don’t attempt to make it convincing; they just introduce it at the end and hope we’ll go along. It doesn’t really matter – only a pedant would insist on an MIB film having an airtight plot. What does grate is the film’s inability to grasp its own bland ineffectualness. Ten minutes after the screening, I was struggling to recall entire scenes, subplots. It’s as if the film had come with its own neuralyzer.

This review appeared in Mint.

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