I had a pretty big Will Smith phase back in the ’90s. So much so that I had a framed poster from, get this, Wild Wild West in my bedroom—yep, that movie with the mechanical spider and . . . you know what, no need to drag myself any further.
Two summers before Wild Wild West had come the intergalactic misadventures of the soon-to-be Agent J, a man who encouraged me to rock dark sunglasses and maybe, just maybe, believe what I saw in the National Enquirer. The original Men in Black was the perfect summer blockbuster, a simple, fun flick that came equipped with a catchy Will Smith jam we could all dance to. (Spoiler: it’s still a bop.) It was a nice, self-contained movie that didn’t really need a sequel.
Which means it got two of them.
I remember thinking Men in Black II would be cool, though, because the first movie had ended with J getting a new partner—the coroner, Dr. Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino), now known as Agent L. Seeing Will Smith back in action would be one thing, but seeing a female MIB agent? Especially one who’d, frankly, saved J’s and K’s asses by blasting the remnants of their sugar-water-drinking nemesis? Yes, please.
Um. Pretty please?
So, yeah, neither sequel featured this alien slayer. Nor did they feature any female MIB agent, for that matter, with the exception of Agent O (Emma Thompson), who took Zed’s place in Men in Black III. Credit where credit’s due, a female leader for the group is fantastic, seeing as the first movie ended with a woman armed with a blaster, I wanted more women with blasters. Not to mention the sequels kind of spewed split-pea soup all over the ending of the original, since K’s entire purpose was to train J as a replacement, not, you know, come back from neuralyzed retirement. The original goal was to move on and let a new generation take over.
And that’s where Men in Black: International comes in.
Nothing against my high school celebrity crush getting more work, but heading to the international headquarters feels like a proper continuation of the story. Instead of bringing back certain agents (seriously, let Tommy Lee Jones rest), we get new characters and a new headquarters. This is exactly what you’d expect from an organization that exists around the world. Why revisit the American branch when you can go global?
We’re no longer questioning the existence of life beyond our planet, so this movie cuts to the chase. We already know aliens are real, so there’s no need to try and convince us, or our lead character, that certain celebrities are not of this world. There are some familiar beats that call back to the original, but they never overstay their welcome, instead letting this new generation of MIB agents put on their shades and zip around on a motorcycle that can glide across the water like a Jet Ski. There are two layers of wonderment in this movie: one, the aliens, and two, the MIB tech. Seeing a man’s beard unfurl into an alien is cool and all, but can we talk about the subway system MIB has that transports you from the US to London in minutes? Listen, MIB, I know you wanna operate in secret, but can a girl get a trip across the ocean in the time it takes for my hair to dry, please?
Fine, I guess I’ll move on to our main characters. Just . . . DM me, Agent O.
Molly (Tessa Thompson) has spent her whole life trying to find MIB headquarters, and let me tell you, seeing her walk through the doors with her I found you swagger is oh so satisfying. Chef kisses to Tessa Thompson, who gets to rock that dark suit for about 95 percent of the movie. She is exactly what I wanted to see in the 2002 sequel—a smart, finely dressed woman who blasts away space vermin and proves her worth to the entire organization. Then there’s Agent H, played by Chris Hemsworth, who must have a clause in his contract to have at least one total heartthrob moment in each movie he’s in. I ain’t even mad about it. Neither is the internet, which has dubbed him and Tessa a bisexual/pansexual dream come true. H may have more experience, but it’s clear he needs the newly recruited Agent M to rein him in. It’s not that he’s stupid, he’s just a bit full of himself after saving the world this one time at band camp—erm, Paris. To be fair, his arrogance isn’t his fault. The agency’s leader, High T (Liam Neeson), is constantly making excuses for H, coddling him as he swears up and down that he’s good at his job, he just . . . makes a mess . . . sometimes.
Much like they did in Thor: Ragnarok, Thompson and Hemsworth have amazing on-screen chemistry. You get the feeling that they are true #friendshipgoals and are thoroughly enjoying these cosmic adventures they keep going on. Simply put, these two make the movie—along with, I’m surprised to say, their nonhuman sidekick. A lot of movies like this feel the need to insert the quirky mascot that’ll most likely entertain the kids as they munch on popcorn. Their jokes tend to be harmless but can wear out their welcome, the puns becoming the equivalent of jingling your keys in front of a baby to get them to smile. But Pawny (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) is actually equal parts funny and useful, making you appreciate the trio as a trio and not the two leads and that thing that’s grating on my nerves.
Despite all this, I have two issues with the movie, and unfortunately, they are things that could potentially kill it for other viewers. The plot itself is, well, a bit meh. It’s not bad, but it won’t knock your socks off, either. And the same can be said about the movie’s villains. The twin aliens pursuing our heroes are dope as hell, and the choreography of Les Twins is at times mesmerizing to watch. However, they don’t offer much beyond “Damn, those are some cool moves.” Basically, they’re like the Twins in the second Matrix movie—you’ll remember how cool they looked and their fluid movements, but you’d be hard-pressed to remember their names. (Which is fine, I guess, because neither movie’s set of twins gets actual names in the credits.)
This wouldn’t be a problem if Men in Black’s twins were just henchmen like The Matrix’s, but as it stands they’re the antagonists our heroes deal with the most. Sadly, this lack of personality is kind of a theme with the movie’s antagonists. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fun, but they aren’t particularly memorable. Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), for example, is built up as someone to be feared, but in the end she’s just . . . there.
Normally, this would kill a movie for me, as I need the story and the main conflict to be engaging. But honestly? Men in Black: International gave me exactly what I wanted: a chance to sit down, have some laughs, and stare at the visuals on the screen. The dynamic between Thompson and Hemsworth alone is worth the price of admission. Basically, I went into the movie the same way I did back in 1997—ready for a summer blockbuster with cool effects, an interesting world, and characters I adore. And if you go in with that mindset, you’ll have a good time too.