There's a direct correlation between people who really like the Men in Black franchise and people who take great pride in knowing every lyric to the theme tune for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It's an artefact of the 1990s in every way – a reminder of the days in which Will Smith was a sort of infallible cinematic deity. Seven years after Smith said goodbye to his leading role in the belated threequel, the titular organisation has been given a fresh lick of paint and a globe-trotting enhancement for F. Gary Gray's MIB: International. Unfortunately, no amount of modern gloss and zeitgeisty casting can compensate for the movie's complete lack of imagination.
Tessa Thompson is Molly, who becomes obsessed with tracking down the mysterious organisation that wiped the memories of her parents after an alien encounter, unaware that she too had witnessed an extra-terrestrial on Earth. When she eventually dupes her way into the MIB HQ, boss O (Emma Thompson) takes a shine to her and quickly hires her, allowing the movie to finally slow down and take a pause after its maddening, breathless setup. O dispatches Molly – now known simply as M – to the London branch, for reasons not really explained, where she enters the boisterous orbit of Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) – a charismatic rogue so obviously in debt to sci-fi past that the H presumably stands for Han. He even insists he works Solo.
Part of the problem is that the two central characters slot so neatly into archetypes. Hemsworth and Thompson, who of course have a handful of Marvel Cinematic Universe team-ups under their belt at this point, are engaging and dynamic performers, far more capable than their 'Sexy Maverick' and 'Uptight Rookie' characters. A flashback sequence introduces Molly reading Stephen Hawking in her bed as a child, while H is described at one point as "vaguely inept, arrogant and reckless", so it's fair to say these characters are every bit as on the nose as a Tyson Fury jab.
The plot involves a mole in MIB London and a powerful MacGuffin in the form of a weapon with the power of a compressed star. Meanwhile, audiences are treated to the tedious office politics of this world, in which Liam Neeson as boss High T – everyone took the rest of the day off after writing that pun – shows favouritism to his protégé H at the expense of C (Rafe Spall) – an ambitious stickler who thinks nothing of using the word "farrago" in general conversation. It's standard stuff, and there might not be a surprise in the whole movie, despite a sprawling story that clocks up air miles as if it's taking its title as a challenge.
Hemsworth and Thompson are putting everything into this, but their chemistry cannot overcome the fact there's no energy or electricity between these two characters at all. The former only seems to come alive when he briefly wields a hammer in a neat nod to his Asgardian alter ego, while Thompson is marooned in the worst kind of pseudo-feminist, 'strong woman' cliché.
It takes the addition of Kumail Nanjiani as the diminutive, servile alien Pawny to inject any sense of fun into the central team, while Rebecca Ferguson conveys dangerous glamour with her trademark icy flair and the help of a rather unconventional fighting style. These occasional bright spots, however, are littered in the midst of an overlong movie that manages to extend perpetually into the void without ever feeling the pressure to say or do anything new.
This is 'Blockbuster Sci-Fi 101' in terms of its mythology and storytelling and lacks any of the flair that Gray brought to the action sequences in his chaotic Fast and Furious 8. Stakes and jeopardy are galaxies away, particularly in a third act that is over and done with before anyone has had chance to become tense, excited or even especially awake.
Anyone with the inclination to get angry about MIB: International is likely a victim of the Ghostbusters Effect, in which a solidly enjoyable film from their childhood is elevated to untouchable classic status merely as a result of the passage of time. The original movies are fine, and this one's just the wrong side of that line. There's nothing offensive or particularly awful about this film, but there's nothing to treasure either.
Men in Bleurgh.