glenn criddle | cyncial celluloid | july 2019
“Men in Black" was one of those very memorable blockbusters that stuck out from the crowd at the time. Quirky and fun with a decent story and a weird world that fed from the likes of Roswell conspiracy theories and starring two actors that bounced off one another with surprising agility, it had more than enough charm to make its mark in minds of many people. Then came the sequels, which demonstrated the stories' limitations and are films I can barely remember a frame of now.
Seven years after MIB 2, MIB International arrives on the scene with a fresh new cast and an unfortunately stale story. Molly (Tessa Thompson), having met an alien as a kid, avoided being memory wiped and grew up with the knowledge of aliens being on Earth. Now an adult, and a brilliant one at that, she seeks to join the MIB and is taken on under probation, being partnered with Agent H (Hemsworth) on what seems to be a babysitting mission but when a pair of aliens searching for an unassuming looking artifact get involved, the partners have to fight to secure the hugely powerful weapon whilst a mole in the MIB seeks to have them fail.
It's come to the point that I wonder if Sony deserves to exist any more. MIB International comes sporting an uninspired title that at least fits the film. Now it's not like MIBI is all bad, at times it manages to pull off some good moments but it doesn't exactly spark with energy either. Now I should give a little disclaimer here; what I sat through at my cinema was possibly not quite what it should have been. The music element of the soundtrack seemed to be turned down in volume in relation to the rest of the soundtrack, which was hugely distracting and this may have been something to do with the theatre's sound system. If it wasn't, then the film has a serious problem as the music should have been significantly lifted in the mix.
This gripe aside, what do we have here? Well, imagine the Sony “magic" of “Ghostbusters" 2016 meets “Captain Marvel" but a lot less annoying. That's not saying much, though as the film spends a lot of occasions throwing out the corporate standard virtue signals whilst delivering the central female character as the blandest, all-capable, can-do-no-wrong, package. Where Will Smith's Agent J was an ordinary guy who gets dropped into an extraordinary situation and has to learn to cope with everything from a new perspective, Molly has spent her life with knowledge of alien existence and walks in prepared to out-think and out-shine the others with no major character growth. Why is it that the standard approach for female characters in these films has to be that they've always been brilliant, they've always been outstanding and they never have anything to learn? It's so bland.
The central characters of Molly and Agent H are about as far from the original MIB's dynamic as you can get, which is great in some respects, but frankly, they don't have the valuable adversarial relationship that made the originals' banter work so well and while I'm happy they didn't go down the line of simply co-opting the original, I struggle to see the chemistry that others have been talking about, what conflict exists is very minor and often bland. This is not to say that I think either actor is bad in this, they're not, the cast is rather good. In particular, Hemsworth is almost always a lot of fun and I've enjoyed Thompson's work in the Marvel films. This is down to the writing, pure and simple. Bland really is the key word here. In spite of some reasonable action scenes and loads of great and geeky technology, I can't claim to have been on the edge of my seat at any time and to be blunt, by the time the film ended I was more than ready to get out. It's surprisingly dull.
At time of writing “Variety" reports a $26 million box office in its opening weekend, which is not promising, and there's a pattern of franchises (outside of Marvel for now) and remakes simply failing to tempt people to the theatres. While some attribute this audience apathy to “franchise fatigue," I'm not so sure it's as simple or one-sided as this as Marvel has seen nothing of this “fatigue."
What's certainly not helping, and certainly is the case with MIB International, is that they're so often uninspired. The studios are grabbing this stuff out of the dusty vaults and rebooting it out the door. Was anyone screaming for a MIB reboot? No. No one was missing it, but the studios know we recognize the name, gave it a trendy update and threw it out into the cinemas where those who are familiar with the series are alienated by the changes and those who are less so are just not excited by the prospect. There was nothing particularly original in the first MIB's ideas but the writing was snappy enough to lift it up and the chemistry of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones made that movie stand out. MIBI is, at best, more of the same but lacking the energy and freshness the original had.
While MIBI isn't awful by any means, it hardly warrants a visit to the cinema. I assume Sony wants to make this the new start to the franchise but I'd be surprised if this hasn't killed that off and another reboot will likely happen a few years down the line. Even if it doesn't become an official flop, I'm fairly sure it won't justify a sequel. Never fear though, I'm sure all the execs that made the decisions will be just fine ... again. If only we could all get away with blowing $110,000,000 at work and still be employable.
He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage