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Tessa Thompson as Agent M; Chris Hemsworth as Agent H

Actors can’t replace previous star power of Men in Black

When Columbia Pictures dropped rising star Will Smith and respected veteran actor Tommy Lee Jones into the original Men in Black film in 1997, it immediately became a family favorite.

The family-friendly feel continued in future films and now, with MIB: International, a new set of actors carry on the franchise but it’s more difficult to keep that PG-13 rating.

Starring Tessa Thompson as Agent M; Chris Hemsworth as Agent H; Rebecca Ferguson as Riza; Emma Thompson as Agent O; Liam Neeson as High T; Kumail Nanjiani as Pawny (voice), MiB continues the humor but it likes the finesse with Jones and Smith.

That, in itself, is perhaps unremarkable as is the array of strange creatures. When you work for the Men in Black, you’re liable to see all manner of “funny” when you punch the clock. Maybe a thousand-tentacled creature is walking through the halls. Or perhaps a family of literal bubble-brained denizens from Zerboni is enjoying soda via osmosis. Sure, most folks might do a double-take when coming face-to-face with a one-eyed, three-nosed Begurthigarian. But at MiB, “funny” is relative.

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The universe is a pretty hostile place. Who knew, right? In addition to the cold, dark, inherently unlivable vacuum of space beyond our atmosphere, MiB: International tells us that even its habitable parts sometimes hold hostile aliens who’d like to kill, eat and perhaps use us as dental floss. While most of Earth’s intergalactic visitors are peace-loving entreprenuers, vacationers or refugees, some are serious threats—and the MiB exists, in part, to deal with those threats.

It’s not an easy job, and we see that its agents often risk their lives to battle these interstellar interlopers. Both agents H and M do so repeatedly. They’re joined in their adventure by a pocket-sized alien that M calls “Pawny.” (He was a pawn in a strange chess-based culture, apparently, which begs more questions than we have time to consider here.) He swears to serve and protect M faithfully, and he’s as good as his word.

For all the strange and colorful creatures that regularly pass through London’s truly cosmopolitan MiB headquarters, the one thing no one seemed prepared for was … a mole. When a party-hearty alien prince ostensibly under MiB protection is killed by a couple of shape-shifting assassins, it becomes clear that not all these Men (and Women) in Black are who they appear to be. And High T, London’s bureau chief, is determined to investigate.

Could the culprit be Agent H —the roguish, irresponsible gadabout who’s still regarded as one of the agency’s greatest heroes? The man who, along with a still-in-the-field Agent T, saved the world with (as is oft repeated) “nothing but his wits and series 70 de-atomizers”?

Could it be Agent C—a bespectacled, by-the-book bureaucrat who has taken his loathing of the handsome Agent H to new and, perhaps, unprofessional levels?

Or is it possibly newcomer Agent M?

If an outside agency was investigating, seems like she’d initially be the prime suspect. After all, she essentially broke into MiB headquarters and practically insisted someone make her an agent (which someone did). Then she ingratiated herself to notorious loner Agent H, thus earning herself the plum assignment of guarding the now-dead prince. (Then again, she was the one who formulated the whole “mole” theory in the first place.)

Or could it be, y’know, an actual mole? An intergalactic one from a few parsecs away?

Hey, this is MiB we’re talking about. You never know.

MiB: International holds true to the film franchise’s light tone. But it sports some extraterrestrial problems, too. We’re exposed to some interspecies hanky-panky here and deal with a couple of painfully melted men. The language is hardly stellar, either. Moreover, despite featuring the talents of Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth (an unexpected coda to their partnership in Thor: Ragnarok), MiB: International feels curiously flat and uninspired. All the beats feel right, but the end-product is wrong—as if the film was made via a paint-by-numbers kit.

Men in Black: International feels less like a fully functioning movie than an effort to wring just a wee bit more cash from a tired franchise. And while that’s hardly an alien concept in Hollywood, it’s a shame that such a star-studded sequel should be quite so earthbound.

–FOFMovies

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