Film Review: Men In Black: International

men in black movie poster one sheetThere’s a certain amount of whimsy that runs throughout the Men In Black series. The story posits that aliens have always lived among us and that humans long ago created a secret organization to keep things from descending into chaos. The “Men In Black” manage aliens who visit or move here to Earth. They all dress identically, with narrow black ties, white dress shirts and black suits. As part of their standard kit, they also get Ray Ban sunglasses and a device about the size of a cigar called a “neuralizer”. Why don’t we humans know about the organization? Because any time humans see any alien activity, the MIB zap us with their neuralizers which erase those memories.

I have always loved the franchise with its fun, goofy jokes and wacky aliens. The fact that the original 1997 Men In Black movie starred the wry, charismatic Will Smith as Agent Jay didn’t hurt one bit either; it’s one of Smith’s best roles. Men In Black II came out in 2002 and Men In Black III in 2012, both to solid box office success.

Men In Black: International exists somewhere between a reboot and a spin-off and has an entirely new cast, centering on Agent M (Tessa Thompson), who has spent her adolescence trying to track down and join the Men In Black. She succeeds and is soon assigned to protect Vungus the Ugly (Kayvan Novak) along with the flashy Agent H (Chris Hemsworth). Supervising them out of the London MIB office is Agent High T (Liam Neeson) and the big boss of the entire enterprise is Agent O (Emma Thompson). There’s one more agent in the mix too; the skeptical and petty Agent C (Rafe Spall), who envies Agent H and isn’t shy to complain about being second fiddle.

Protecting Vungus isn’t so easy, because it turns out that there are some pretty bad dudes known as the Alien Twins (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) who are darn interested in Vungus. When everyone collides in an alien-friendly nightclub things go awry pretty fast. What do the evil twins seek and who can be trusted? For that matter, is there an agent in the MIB organization who might not be loyal to humanity?

men in black international photo publicity still
Pawny (Nanjiani), Agent M (Thompson) and Agent H (Hemsworth), from “Men In Black: International”

The real star of the movie is shorter, much shorter, than anyone else on the team, however. 5-inch tall “Pawny” (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) is the best part of the film and gets the most laughs from the audience. A sort of snarky, sarcastic and sporadically noble Jiminy Cricket for Agent M, he turns Men In Black: International into one of the must amusing films of the summer.

Pawny’s also an important part of the team, helping the earnest Agent M and goofy Agent H get along as they solve various mysteries. We already know that Hemsworth has charisma to spare but it turns out that Thompson also does a great job on screen as the somewhat nerdy gal whose only desire is to become an MIB agent.

The action flows along well, there are lots of fun scenes on the streets of London, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Marrakesh and its adjacent desert, and a beautiful Italian castle. Channeling “Q” from the Bond series, there are also lots of shiny guns ranging from pea-shooters to planet destroying super guns, often hidden in the most unlikely places but always ready to use.

The trick with a film like Men In Black: International is to capture the tone of a series that started more than twenty years earlier, and director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, The Negotiator) does just that, even including the font-perfect opening titles and the lively soundtrack (including music by Will Smith, as it happens).

I really enjoyed the story, the performances and the visual effects and feel that Men In Black: International is overall quite a credible addition to the successful franchise. Fun, pretty darn child-friendly with its barely warranted PG-13 rating, and highly amusing, it’s definitely worth checking out!

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