Ah yes, Men in Black. A well-loved, classic sci-fi and action franchise, now with Thor and Valkyrie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the forefront of its latest instalment. Needless to say, as a fan of the MCU, I was excited for whatever was in store.
On the days leading up to Men in Black: International‘s release, I re-watched the original Men in Black trilogy. In doing so, I was able to identify a couple of elements that pretty much every Men in Black film has:
- A story involving action, humor and sci-fi, with occasional tender moments;
- Witty banter between the protagonists (ie. Agents);
- Cool weapons and technology;
- Smart-mouthed alien(s);
- An impending threat to all life on Earth, both alien and human.
When I say “pretty much every Men in Black film”, International is included too. For that reason, I’m going to be commenting on Men in Black: International based on these elements, in the order mentioned above.
Men in Black: International has a unique premise: Molly (played by Tessa) finds the Men in Black and asks to be recruited, instead of being found. As a probationary agent on her first mission, she’s paired up with the cocky Agent H (played by Chris). While their mission seems simple at first, it spirals into shoot-outs, chases and brawls in a couple of locations, in a bid to prevent the Earth from being destroyed.
In this sense, the story follows a general formula that can be seen throughout the past Men in Black films. However, there’s still a good twist or two in the movie, if you’re not all that sharp at predicting movie plotlines. There was also a very small Marvel reference at one point, which was a pleasant surprise!
On another hand, though, the story could have been clearer at some parts. There were one or two plot points that were left unexplained, and it makes the story come across as having parts that aren’t linked at all.
Here’s an example, to make things clearer: Incident X happens to Character A, and A acts a certain way after. The story does not provide any real explanation as to why Incident X caused Character A’s change in behaviour.
While some of these plot points do have contextual clues that allow viewers to infer why certain characters act or do things the way they do, it’s just a little disappointing that they were left unexplained. Rather than letting viewers connect the dots on their own, it would make the movie’s storytelling come across as less sloppy if such details were explained – especially if these details were emphasised throughout the movie.
Overall, the story isn’t fantastic, nor is it particularly memorable. However, it does serve its purpose – to entertain and intrigue its audiences with its quirky aliens, action, and witty banter.
Banter / Dialogue
Which brings us to their dialogue. Something that’s pivotal to bringing the dialogue to life is how well the main pair work together.
Casting Tessa and Chris together is a pretty decent choice, because clearly, they have chemistry. If you enjoyed their dynamic in Thor: Ragnarok where they’re smart-mouthed rogue buddies out on a kick-ass adventure, you’ll enjoy their dynamic here.
On that note, while there were moments in the movie where the pair shared moments of romantic tension, there was no romance between them. In fact, their dynamic kind of follows the pattern of the previous Men in Black movies – Chris takes on the role of a playboy (similar to Will Smith in the previous movies, striking up romances here and there) while Tessa remains more stoic. Regardless, they’re a fun duo that work well together, and are enjoyable to watch on-screen.
While their chemistry is one thing, the movie’s dialogue (jokes, in particular) is another. It seems like women-related jokes are the trend now in action movies with a strong female lead, what with “X-Women” being used as a snide remark in Dark Phoenix, and now “Women in Black” mentioned in a similar fashion in Men in Black: International.
Though it’s nice to see stronger female characters making these jokes, as a female viewer myself, oftentimes it just comes off as forced. After all, who better to crack jokes like that than a strong female lead in the movie, right? I personally think actions speak louder than words – let them kick ass, and have that strength do the talking for them.
Weapons and Technology
In that regard, what’s action in Men in Black without cool weaponry, right? Men in Black: International delivers on this end with gadgets that are new, yet somewhat predictable. Think fast (flying!) cars, and a whole range of alien-eliminating items, ranging from a pistol smaller than a palm (yes, from the old movies) to giant rapid-fire cannons. Of course, there’s also the Weapon of Mass Destruction that everyone’s trying to get their hands on.
It’s nice how these weapons are used (when they are), but they’re part and parcel of every Men in Black film. While the movie does show audiences some new tech, I just wish they had more action scenes involving the use of said cool weaponry.
Of course, another thing that’s part and parcel of a Men in Black film would be aliens. Fans are treated to cameos from aliens from the previous movies (think: the pug), and at the same time, are introduced to new ones.
On this end, one of the stars of the show is Pawny (voiced by Kumail Nanjaini), that tiny gremlin-looking alien that you’ve probably seen if you’ve watched a trailer, or seen a poster. Smart-mouthed and dramatic, Pawnie is present in the film to add witty remarks where he can, and to push the plot along.
He’s cute in a Minion (from the Despicable Me movies) sort of way – in that he’s endearing but also kind of ugly, and that you’ll probably either love him or hate him.
Apart from Pawny, the main duo do have a couple of interactions here and there with a number of other aliens. While these interactions are no less in number than the ones that occurred in the previous movies, somehow, you (as the viewer) are just left feeling like you want more.
That’s not to say these interactions weren’t good, though. Personally, I felt that most of them did as they were supposed to – they were intimidating, or funny, or just plain charming, in true Men in Black fashion.
Ah yes, the big, bad figure that pushes the story forward. Generally in Men in Black movies, this tends to be (a member of) a homicidal alien race – either by circumstance, or just because they’re bloodthirsty by nature. Usually they want to obtain something all-powerful that someone on Earth has, in order to destroy Earth itself. While doing so, they disguise themselves as humans, kill a couple of people and leave behind gruesome corpses.
Men in Black: International follows this same standard trend. Shapeshifting aliens (as revealed in the movie’s earlier trailers) have come to Earth in search of an extremely powerful weapon. However, they’re not as memorable or as intimidating as they sound. If anything, they were used as a foreshadowing device that ended up not having much payoff.
It’s a shame, because usually, these big villains in Men in Black tend to be memorable, no matter how the plot goes. Take the giant cockroach alien from Men in Black, and the shape-shifting tentacle monster that took the form of a lingerie model in Men in Black 2. Both villains were memorable because of their behaviour or their schemes, despite also having the abilities to take the form of a human (though not necessarily by shape-shifting).
While the story of Men in Black International does still make the process of investigating these Big Bad aliens intriguing, the invading aliens fail to meet the mark in terms of being memorable. After all, **SPOILER** they’re just a stepping stone, or cover-up, for another mastermind behind the entire situation, which makes all that time spent making them seem intimidating a little wasted.
In short summary, Men in Black: International is a standard Men in Black movie. You’ve got sci-fi action, quirky aliens with smart mouths, and witty banter between agents in slick black suits, who are trying to save the earth from impending doom.
Seriously though, for all their trouble, are they getting paid minimum wage at least?
- Cool weapons
- Fun inter-character dynamics
- A very small Marvel reference!
- Enjoyable story with surprising twist(s)
- Dialogue could have been better
- Story could have been clearer in some aspects; ultimately isn’t memorable
It’s definitely a movie you should watch if you’re interested in any of the points I’ve mentioned above. Alternatively, if you’re a fan of Chris Hemsworth and/ or Tessa Thompson, you’d probably find it fun to watch them in action.
It’s really not as bad as all the reviews say. Sure, it’s not as memorable as the first Men in Black movie in 1997, but its story isn’t as boring and linear as that of Men in Black 2 either.