It has been twenty-two years since a good Men in Black film was released. That happened back on July 2, 1997, during what was then known as "Big Willie Weekend," as star Will Smith was churning out July 4th hit after July 4th hit. That first film was a humor-packed summer action spectacular, and it spawned a garbage sequel five years later and an equally lousy revival in 2012. The summer 2019 blockbuster season was a weak one, so it is fitting that Sony went back into its vaults in an attempt to resuscitate the Men in Black franchise yet again. Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are nowhere to be found, and Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson instead lead the film. The action is based in London but circles the globe, hence the title, Men in Black: International. The leads share good chemistry, but twenty minutes in you realize that neither director F. Gary Gray nor writers Art Marcum and Matt Holloway have a fresh idea between them.
A young Molly Wright (Thompson) witnesses an alien on earth and sees Men in Black agents neuralyze her parents, erasing their memories of the event. She escapes with the knowledge that aliens do exist, and spends the next twenty years training to join the Men in Black. In the present, Wright uncovers an alien-landing site in Manhattan and stalks several MiB agents to their underground headquarters, where she begs Agent O (Emma Thompson) to give her a chance to prove her worth. Wright manages to impress O, who hires her for a probationary period and gives Wright the codename Agent M. The rookie is assigned to the London branch of MiB under High T (Liam Neeson), and meets Agent H (Hemsworth), the branch's best agent who has become full of himself after saving the world from alien invaders known as the Hive. M convinces a reluctant H to let her partner with him, and the pair is soon caught in the crossfire between two alien twins able to manifest energy and H's alien friend Vungus, who is killed in the altercation. Vungus gives M a crystal before he dies, which turns out to be a compressed blue giant star, a weapon sought by the twins that is capable of wiping out all life on earth.
For the first few minutes of Men in Black: International, I thought the reviewers at large may have gotten this one wrong. Thompson and Hemsworth are perfectly pleasant and have good chemistry; Neeson and Emma Thompson are nice additions that bring class to the project, and the film zips into the action fairly quickly. Once Vungus croaks, however, things go downhill fast, and MiB: International turns into a two-hour rehash of previous films and stale ideas. Simply put, the film is boring. The plot is convoluted and dull, the villains and other supporting characters are largely forgettable, and the action feels like it was shot in the late 1990s. The film never propositions H and M as romantic partners, and instead sends them to the fortress of Riza Stavros (Rebecca Ferguson), an intergalactic arms dealer and H's previous lover, for some quippy flirting for H. Again, Hemsworth and Thompson are perfectly game for this material, they just do not have much to work with.
With dull action and a fairly uninteresting plot, including a not-unexpected conspiracy below the surface, Men in Black: International should have at least been funny. It is not. There was one joke at which I laughed out loud, involving H promising a female alien attacker he will do "anything" if she supplies him needed anti-venom, but the rest of the zingers fall flat. The film also gives H and M a sort of cute, mostly annoying sidekick in Pawny ( Kumali Nanjiani), a tiny alien warrior they befriend. His inclusion reminds me this film is mostly for kids, despite its PG-13 rating and some "suggestive material" (the MPAA's words, not mine). Gray, despite coming off career highs Straight Outta Compton and The Fate of the Furious, gives Men in Black: International little personality or flair. It feels like the filmmaking team here took $100 million, watched the original Men in Black, then had six months to recreate it for 2019. Too dull and predictable to excel, MiB: International spoils the talents of Hemsworth and Thompson.
The film disappoints, but this 2.00:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image certainly does not. Sony's transfer is crisp, detailed and looks fantastic in motion. This image is about as good as Blu-ray is going to look, with fantastic, accurate textures, gorgeously saturated colors, inky blacks and spot-on highlights. Other than some very minor banding in an early establishing shot, there is nothing to complain about here. Close-ups reveal intimate facial details and costume textures, wide shots are crisp and clean, and the effects are blended nicely with the live action material.
The Blu-ray curiously only offers a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix (there is an Atmos mix on the 4K release) but it is no slouch. The effects layering is top-notch, and the track is wonderfully immersive throughout. Action effects make constant use of the surrounds and LFE, dialogue is clear and perfectly audible, and the score is given plenty of room to breathe. I suspect this is a very good representation of the theatrical experience. Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are included, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and digital code. The discs are packed in an Elite case that is wrapped in a boring matte slipcover with oddly fuzzy text. Extras include a Gag Reel (2:13/HD); Alien Shopping Network! (1:24/HD), which are funny clips with Frank the Pug; Deleted Scenes (11:35/HD); New Recruits, Classic Suits (7:04/HD); Let's Do This! Inside the Action and Stunts (5:43/HD); Look Right Here: Gadgets, Weapons and Rides (4:20/HD); Expanding the Universe of MiB (5:57/HD); Frank and Pawny's Peanut Gallery (5:36/HD); Les Twins Leave it on the Floor (2:22/HD); In Case You've Been Neuralized: MiB Recap (3:21/HD); and The Men in Black Meet the NBA (2:36/HD).
I think it's time to put this franchise to bed. Twenty-two years after Men in Black entertained summer audiences, we now have a third follow-up that fails to recreate the magic of the original. Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are affable leads here, but Men in Black: International is a dull imitation of its superior roots. Skip It.