Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson, Rafe Spall, Kumail Nanjiani
Runtime: 1 hr 55 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Sony Pictures
Official Website: https://www.meninblack.com
Opening Day: 13 June 2019
Synopsis: The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest, most global threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organization.
If ever you had any doubt that Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones were the heart, soul and life of the ‘Men In Black’ franchise, look no further than this fourth chapter, which trades their veteran-rookie act for the buddy comedy pairing of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. Whereas the earlier three films juxtaposed Smith’s wisecracking Agent J against Jones’ deadpan Agent K, the spinoff here aims for the same playfully combative tension that Hemsworth and Thompson had earlier demonstrated in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, although the results feel tired, weak and dull this time round, especially with the utter absence of any wit in their scripted banter.
Indeed, to be fair to both Hemsworth and Thompson, both actors bounce off each other with a pleasantly amiable familiarity that does liven the otherwise uninspired material, especially with the former gamely sending up his matinee good looks and the latter playing the cool-eyed realist not afraid to call out his ne’er-do-well ways; unfortunately, as a former hotshot agent who now behaves more like a cad and as an eager new recruit keen to establish herself in the agency respectively, Hemsworth and Thompson cannot summon enough spark to keep us engaged and invested in their characters, as well as the relationship between theirs Agents H and M.
You’d have thought that they would know better how to work such material, but ‘Iron Man’ screenwriters Matt Holloway and Art Marcum demonstrate a shocking ineptness to even replicate the original’s formula – of smart-ass humour, combined with a menagerie of kooky alien supporting characters and some inventive humans-versus-aliens action – into fresh settings. In fact, we’d even go as far as to say that none of the elements which made the original and its two sequels entertaining diversions is successfully at play here, and perhaps even lost amidst a needlessly convoluted plot that globe-trots just so to live up to the ‘international’ part of its subtitle.
Little of what happens is consequential in and of itself, given how the events seem choreographed to take us from one laser shoot-out and/or high-speed chase to another. All that matters is both agents are on the trail of an elusive inter-galactic weapon that a pair of shape-shifting alien proxies (played by dancer-choreographer twins Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) are also after, which leads them from the streets of London to the alleys of Marrakesh and finally to the very Eiffel Tower itself. Complicating matters is the possibility of MIB-London being compromised, with the mole coming down to either the squirrelly Agent C (Rafe Spall) or the division boss High T (Liam Neeson) – and yes, no prizes for guessing who it eventually turns out to be.
If both the plotting and scripting turn out disappointing, then what is even more devastating is F. Gary Gray’s messy direction. Clearly lacking the imagination of Barry Sonnenfeld, whose vision and skill of juggling live-action and visual effects elevated each one of the earlier three movies, Gray stages each of the showpieces with sheer perfunctoriness. We had expected much, much more from the director of such action-oriented blockbusters as ‘The Fate of the Furious’ and ‘The Italian Job’, but Gray seems unable to inject much thrill or wacky fun into the action scenes, which pretty much drains the entertainment out of a film whose appeal rested on those very qualities.
What is missing too is the amusement which Industrial Light and Magic’s bug-eyed creations brought, here largely reduced to Kumail Nanjiani’s pint-sized chess piece sidekick and Rebecca Ferguson’s three-armed criminal overlord with a zebra-striped wig. Not much creative thought seems to have been spent on the other blink-and-miss aliens who are supposed to inhabit the world around us without our knowledge, and that indifference sadly permeates the entire film itself as well as our consequent attitude towards it.
Frankly, if you’ve grown up with the ‘Men in Black’ films, this is probably the worst of the lot. You would have thought the close to two decades since the last outing would have given the same producers some time to reflect on how to reinvigorate what was at risk of becoming hackneyed, but even bringing back Smith and Jones for yet another ride would probably have been more delightful than rebooting it with Hemsworth and Thompson. Like we said, both new additions do try their best with what they have practised before, but it isn’t nearly enough to compensate for a sequel-slash-spinoff that goes through the motion in the most workmanlike manner possible. We’re more than game for a contemporary update that recognises the Women next to the Men in Black, but hey it has got to be a lot, a lot better than this bland, banal and boring tedium.
(Lacking the spark of the original, this sequel-slash-spinoff is a bland, banal and boring retread that not even the buddy comedy pairing of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson can compensate for)
Review by Gabriel Chong