Men in Black: International movie review: it is its own neuralyzer

Men in Black International red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Performs a complete charmectomy on its usually hugely charismatic stars, leaves them to flounder about with a bizarrely inept script, and actually seems to be trolling us with its pseudo feminism.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth; mostly love the MIB movies
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female coprotagonist
(learn more about this)

Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth had such delicious comic chemistry in Thor: Ragnarok that I was super psyched to hear that they would be costarring in a sequel to/reboot of the Men in Black franchise. The 1997 original is surely one of the great studio comedies, and without question of the best science-fiction comedies ever, in perhaps the toughest genre crossover to pull off. An MIB flick with these two at its center? Gotta be a can’t-miss, right?

Wrong. It’s shocking all the ways in which Men in Black: International squanders absolutely everything it had going for it. That begins with how it mysteriously performs a nearly complete charmectomy on its usually hugely charismatic stars, moves on to leaving them to flounder about with a bizarrely inept script, and actually seems as if it might be trolling us with its pseudo feminism.

Men in Black International Emma Thompson
There’s nowhere near enough of Emma Thompson’s Agent O here…

I mean, look: Thompson’s (Avengers: Endgame, Creed II) newbie Agent M, on probation during her first case, is literally brilliant, a genius hacker and, perhaps even more importantly for MIB work, someone who sees big-picture stuff, is able to put together enormous mysteries from hidden-in-plain-sight clues; also, she’s not afraid to confront the scary secrets of the universe. She’s almost a clichéd “perfect girl,” the sort of absurdly flawless woman whom male screenwriters — in this case, Matt Holloway and Art Marcum (as a team: Iron Man) — mistakenly believe is feminist. (Women are people. Women are human: messy and messed up, confused and damaged. You know, like men are. This is the essence of feminism. Anyone who thinks that feminism means “women are perfect” is not only not a feminist, but is a deluded idiot.) M is saved from this only because she does have a bit of a personal journey of growth and learning of her own — usually the “perfect girl” is present merely to support a man on his journey — and because Thompson is so amazing that even this dumb crap cannot keep her down. Even with the movie working against her, she is still able to bring some human personality and human fallibilities to M.

But contrast her with Hemsworth’s (Bad Times at the El Royale, 12 Strong) Agent H, with whom M is partnered for no real reason beyond plot convenience. It doesn’t take long for M to peg him, accurately, as “vaguely inept, arrogant, reckless”; another character, more succinctly, tags him as a “jackass.” He is someone who seems to constantly fail upward; he is definitely someone about whom we see little evidence of why he is so valued in the MIB organization beyond the usual fact of white men constantly failing upward, with the support of other white men. There is real room in this movie for this to have been treated satirically… except no one involved appears to have even realized what they had. This movie is a terrific example of how, just as you cannot deploy “feminism” without knowing what you’re doing, you also cannot deploy “diversity” without knowing what you’re doing. If M were another white man, rather than a black woman, well, then, the dynamic between these two characters wouldn’t be laden with this unspoken underlying thematic stuff.

Men in Black International
…and way too much of this would-be comic-relief little alien (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), who appears to be present solely for the merchandising opportunities.

Please, please, Hollywood: Hire women screenwriters and women directors if you genuinely want to be feminist. (MIBI has a director of color in F. Gary Gray [The Fate of the Furious, Straight Outta Compton]. He seems to have missed what he had here, too.) Probably you don’t want that, though, or else you wouldn’t just toss in some rando pandering. But we are on to you. You are not fooling anyone.

As always when movies are this tediously blinkered about their own gender and racial subtext, I might be able to give it a grudging pass if it were at least otherwise entertaining. But this is not the case here. Men in Black: International commits an unforgivable crime for this franchise: It’s not funny. Like, not at all. I laughed not once. Also terrible: The plot, about a mole within the MIB organization, kind of doesn’t work if you think about how it was supposed to have come about. But you don’t even have to think about it to wonder how any professional writers came up with a “mystery” that is so obvious that you find yourself thinking that it cannot possibly be that obvious, surely there’s some sort of double bluff being pulled on us. Except no, there is no double bluff. It is simply that stupidly obvious.

Coincidence will be a thing here. Dumb lapses will be a thing here. (Why would such a spectacular and clearly successful villain have such lax security at her lair? This is an insult to her as well as to the audience.) Men in Black: International is so scandalously cheap and lazy that it never engages. It is its own neuralyzer, ensuring that we forget it the moment we’ve seen it.

see also:
Men in Black (review)
Men in Black II (review)
Men in Black III (review)

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