The appeal of Chris Hemsworth continues to elude in Men in Black: International, a tired reboot of the exhausted popcorn-movie franchise about aliens and the government agents who hunt them. The temptation to make a Meh in Black joke at this point is overwhelming, but we’re trying to run a classy operation here.
Hemsworth takes over the role of veteran Agent M from Tommy Lee Jones, and that’s the movie’s biggest problem. Jones’ deadpan attitude was a critical fuel source in the first three films, which maintained an effective, dry comic quality as the sequels gradually declined.
MIB has always been a second-tier comic book series. Its wry sense of itself was its distinguishing characteristic, jazzed up by the undeniable comic chemistry between Jones and Will Smith. The attitude and the chemistry are largely absent in this new installment, which brings aboard Tessa Thompson—Hemsworth’s costar in Thor: Ragnarok—as the agency’s newest Person in Black. A couple of throwaway jokes explain away the gender dilemma, and they’re pretty good, actually, thanks to the reliable comic instincts of Emma Thompson, MIB’s big boss.
The Thompson twins are the film’s greatest assets, ironically. Tessa and Emma have the funniest scenes, individually and together. Each brings a kind of poise that plays well against the frantic direction by F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton). They never quite replicate Jones’s deadpan counterpoint maneuvers, but they at least understand the value of them. So much of the comedy in this franchise pivots on attitude, on the characters’ various reactions to the weirdness around them.
Hemsworth never finds an effective frequency for his Agent M, and he flatlines gag after gag with overdone posturing and oversold charm. He does, however, look absolutely fantastic in bespoke summerwear shirts cut to optimize his intrinsic awesomeness. I’m not being snarky; I mean it. Aesthetically, you cannot argue with that man’s torso.
Story-wise, it’s the usual routine: Aliens threaten Earth, the MIB mobilize, CGI monsters are dispatched, boss fight at the end. The film’s International tag refers to its various exotic locales: Morocco, Italy, London, a fake Paris. There’s a film of flop sweat toward the end as the movie tries desperately to distract you from the inescapable facts: You’ve already seen this movie, and it was better the first time, the second time, and the third time.