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Men in Black: International •••

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani
Director: F. Gary Gray
Screenplay: Matt Holloway, Art Marcum
Action/Adventure/Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: June 14, 2019


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Well Greg, we’ve got men, women, and creatures in black on the big screen again.

And apparently Milli Vanilli are back as the villains. Let’s recap:

From her bedroom window, a young girl named Molly Wright (Tessa Thompson) watches her parents get neuralized by MIB agents. She helps a cute tiny alien escape, too. Years later, as a young adult, Molly wants to join the MIB team. She infiltrates the MIB headquarters in New York, declares her intent to join the organization, and somehow manages to convince MIB highers-up that she’s worth a shot. They give her a probationary position as Agent M and team her up with Agent H (Chris Hemsworth).

Agent H is not himself since the events of the “Eiffel Tower” incident way back in 2016 where he and Agent High T (Liam Neeson) dispatch the evil “Hive” aliens “using nothing more than their wits and a couple of Series 7 de-atomizers.” When he and Molly visit a night club to talk to Vungus, he is killed by two alien twins (Laurent Bourgeois and Larry Bourgeois who bear a striking resemblance to Milli Villani). Before dying, Vungus hands a small device to Molly imploring her to protect it and trust no one as there is something wrong at MIB. Molly takes on the challenge. Agent H then takes Molly in tow as they are off to Marrakesh to find Vungus’ killer.

Greg, our men (and women) in black are back and working hard to protect the earth from malevolent extra-terrestrials. This latest version MIB: International would be a fine movie if we hadn’t pretty much already seen it all before in earlier incarnations of MIB. I was hoping that the filmmakers here would take the concept in a new exciting direction, but alas we once again have a rookie agent teaming up with a veteran agent, and once again our pair of heroes are responsible for saving the world from evil aliens. There’s really no new terrain covered here, and so the message is clear — this franchise is stale.

Having said that, there is a clearly delineated hero’s journey. Our hero Molly is thrown into the dangerous, unfamiliar world as a child the moment she saves a cute baby alien and eavesdrops on older MIB agents neuralizing her parents. She feels a “calling” to join the MIB – and I believe that the idea of a heroic calling is a topic that deserves further scrutiny. Molly cleverly muscles her way onto the MIB team and then goes through trials to become an established agent and win the trust of her partner Agent H. Soon it becomes clear that her skills exceed his and her transformation is complete when she saves the world.

Movies like Men in Black: International really drive home the sad notion that Hollywood has run out of good screenplay ideas. Or, perhaps even more cynically, these recycled films tell us that Hollywood exists solely to squeeze dollars out of our pockets rather than create anything new and innovative.

I hate to agree with you, Scott, but I fully do. Chris Hemsworth is always fun to watch in the movies and Tessa Thompson is a delight. But this story bears a striking resemblance to 1996’s Mission Impossible. We knew from the start High T had to be the mole and that Agent H had been neuralized since EVERYONE kept repeating the phrase “using nothing more than their wits and a couple of Series 7 de-atomizers.” But of course, we don’t watch MIB movies for their intellectual stimulation. It’s all about the aliens and the humor. This incarnation of the franchise delivers on both counts.

Agents H and M are classic buddy heroes – starting out separate and in the end, joining forces to save the day. Agent H starts out as a sort of devil-may-care playboy and ends up as a leader. And Agent M starts out as a rookie but ends up as an experienced veteran. Their differences are mended and they drive off into the sunset together.

As for a message – beware your boss as he may be a mole in disguise. It happens every day and you should go to work tomorrow and look deeply into your boss’s eyes. Just sayin’.

Men in Black: International isn’t a bad movie; it’s just a movie we’ve seen before. The names have changed and the aliens all look a bit different, but this film is bereft of originality. Ordinarily I enjoy Chris Hemsworth but he seems entirely wrong for this role. Hemsworth mails in his performance and comes across as the kind of agent who should have been killed by aliens years earlier. Tessa Thompson is quite enjoyable to watch but she cannot spin straw into gold here. I generously award this movie 3 Reels out of 5.

As I’ve mentioned, there is a solid hero’s journey unfolding in this movie from the very start, when young Molly has an alien encounter that triggers her calling to join the MIB force. This leads to the good message of the film: “Follow your heart, and follow your calling.” We rarely see movies where there is an inciting incident that fuels a hero’s single-minded purpose in life. I give Molly, also known as Agent M, a total of 3 Hero points out of 5, and I am “called” to give the message of the hero’s calling a rating of 3 Message points out of 5.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

Yes, we’ve seen all of this before. There’s nothing in the MIB universe worth seeing again. The first film was so original. We had seen the X-Files and understood the seriousness of the FBI-like characters. So when flashy, funny, street-wise Will Smith goes up against non-nonsense Tommy Lee Jones, we get a buddy film of the first order. But here, we get a very weak buddy story with stuff we’ve seen before. (And the nagging question – how can there be thousands of Agents with one-letter names? What do they do when they run out of letters A-Z?) I can barely muster 3 out of 5 Reels for MIB: International.

This is a nice buddy hero story where both our buddies emerge better than they started. I give them 3 out of 5 Heroes. And the message to be true to yourself, just 2 Message points.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

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