The Universe Is Expanding

F Gary Gray

Tessa Thompson
Chris Hemsworth
Kumail Nanjiani
Liam Neeson
Emma Thompson

Opening with two separate prologues, we are introduced to a young Molly Wright who witnesses an alien creature but manages to avoid being neuralised, thus sparking a drive to become the best and brightest to get into the ever-elusive agency that she witnessed that fateful night. Fast forward a decade and a half later and we see Men In Black agents H [Hemsworth] and T [Neeson] on a Parisian mission to avoid a world-ending invasion of the shape-shifting race, the Hive. We are then reintroduced to the adult Molly [T Thompson] who infiltrates the New York MIB office and blags her way into a probationary position as Agent M. From here M is dispatched to the London office by Agent O [E Thompson] to investigate irregularities in their operations.

The first Men In Black film had an air of Ghostbusters to it. A character-driven, surprisingly emotional and charming, fun, action-packed, effects heavy romp that pulled the curtain back on the world just underneath our own. It sparked the imagination and captivated audiences but no sequel has ever really come close to replicating that magic. The aliens were relatable, the situations were surprisingly grounded and there was a very thinly-veiled allegory of immigration with outsiders wanting to make a new home and get on with their lives that elevated the entire thing. Men In Black International, on the other hand, is a shell of its predecessor with a complete lack of world-building, aside from the dreary rehashes of the previous films with uninspired alien disguises and eye-rolling concealed entrances. As with the previous instalments, there seems to have been a move away from the nuanced balance of styles, to a very comedy-led approach. Admittedly, there’s nothing wrong with this and sometimes a film can shift genres mid-film and it can generate spectacular results but if you are switching genres, you have to really commit to it and ensure the execution is exceptional enough to warrant said change. Classic examples are Alien/Aliens, Cloverfield/10 Cloverfield Lane but the most appropriate example would be the transition from the rather dark family adventure Jumanji to the light comedic outing Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. Suffice it to say, Men In Black International does not have half of the energy or originality of these instances.

As was apparent from the promotional footage, the Men In Black series has descended from cutting-edge visuals to some genuinely lacklustre CGI. With generic blue holograms-a-plenty, (unintentionally) rubbery looking aliens and big glowing sky beams, there is nothing that sets this movie apart from countless other disappointing summer blockbusters. The only remaining personality comes across through the production design and costume work but even these feel acceptable at best and rely on what has come before rather than forging ahead. While we’re on the subject of visuals, the direction and cinematography lack so much atmosphere, opting for a comedy-centric visual style of brightly lit scenes and generic, underwhelming composition and camera movements. I could transition to the cast but in truth, there isn’t really a lot worth talking about. I can summarise my opinions by grouping everyone into one of two categories. On the one hand you have those who are doing their best with what they have been given, eking out a handful of smirk/titter-inducing lines and eyebrow raising visual sequences. Whereas the remainder are background fodder, underdeveloped signposts moving the characters from triviality to triviality.

Initially one would assume that the key culprit is the story itself, which is remarkably stupid, bland and predictable but the premise itself is fine, it’s in fact the script itself that is so very lacking. As the audience surrogate, the story should largely focus on M’s induction and on paper it does but rushes through the training to get to her first assignment, meaning we are left unsure of her abilities outside of her enthusiasm and being told she is very intelligent. And classically, this movie illustrates this with luck and by making those around her stupid. The script is also littered with painful foreshadowing for third act plot developments and deus ex machina. In the opening prologue Molly meets the young Tranchian creature and as it scampers off into the night, the film whispers “what could that mean” while the audience is expected to keep up the pretence that it wasn’t overtly obvious that said creature will return when the plot requires it, only to be dismissed again just as quickly. Completing the trifecta of mediocrity, is the incredibly flat humour, a lot of which retreads safe familiar ground. I mean, call-backs can be fun when subtle or amusing but more often than not, they hinder a film. Before boarding an express train from New York to London, M (who I should point out, is surrounded by new and exciting peculiarities) takes a moment to look at the worm guys from the previous film before boarding the train. There’s nothing particularly engaging about what they’re saying and no in-character reason for her to be so consumed but the reference is for audiences and therefore is given the same treatment as product placement. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t make sense, there is simply an obligation to show them before moving on with the story.

One of the most frustrating aspects of this film is that on paper it sounds like a winner; a dual-lead team with great chemistry in a new setting on a globe-hopping adventure to save the world. But with rather insipid execution and a very lifeless script, this somehow ends up feeling like the worst Men In Black film, or at the very least, the most unnecessary one.

Release Date:
14th June 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
**mild spoilers within**
So much of the script is riddled with first draft issues; things that look cool or ham-fistedly push the plot along but quickly fall apart under minimal scrutiny. As an example, let’s take the assassination of a member of an alien royal family, Vungus. The twins approach the race of chess people, they refuse and then they kill them all except for the pawn (for unclear reasons). They then learn of Vungus’ location – again, never explicitly stated how – and use a poison dart to kill him. With the alien dying, he is then transported to a car which is propelled into the side of a building with an explosion. While all of the above works as an excuse for action set-pieces and a tedious dance sequence in three separate locations, none of it tracks logically which means either the writing is subpar and everyone involved failed to realise it didn’t make sense or they did and are wilfully indifferent. And with the end result being as it is, I’m not sure which is worse.

Notable Characters:
There are some truly unimaginative beings created for this film. One new addition is intergalactic arms dealer Riza (played by Rebecca Ferguson) who lives on a private island off of the coast of Naples. This alien is referenced a fair few times, creating some mystery and tension but when we eventually meet her, the final product is magnificently underwhelming. With a coloured wig and flowing gown, Ferguson looks like she’s fallen out of a Katy Perry music video and the only thing fundamentally “alien” about her is a third arm. Wow, pulling out all the stops there. But then the film goes in the completely opposite direction with the main villains (dubbed The Twins) whose ill-defined hyper powers are never explained but allow them to crop up briefly when the plot requires them only to be dispatched just as quickly.

Highlighted Quote:
“Passion is unstable, logic is constant”

In A Few Words:
“Frankly, Men In Black International was everything I expected and less”

Total Score: