It should become a fish-out-of-water comedy twice over at this point – American human in an English alien world – but even the promise of seeing how Men In Black operates in a different country is immediately dulled. The HQ looks fundamentally similar, and the only concession to the London setting is that Liam Neeson’s branch head is called High T for no given reason other than the horrible pun. It’s here that Chris Hemsworth’s H joins proceedings, an agent who’s already achieved enough to be heralded alongside J and K from the original films, and seemingly been burned out by hubris.
Hemsworth and Thompson are undoubtedly charming together, bringing their Thor: Ragnarok double act into a new setting, right down to the former’s accent. Sadly, the writing doesn’t live up to their talents. M’s given almost no time to be wowed by her new surroundings, giving us no time to connect to her before she’s already a more-than competent agent. H, on the other hand, should be pure comic relief, a slapstick James Bond always succeeding by failing. Sadly, the jokes just don’t work, regularly too obvious or too much of a non-sequitur to land. It’s telling the biggest laugh in the film is a direct reference to Hemsworth’s work as an Avenger.
And before you know it, the film’s skipped off to Marrakech, where M and H pick up a CGI sidekick, Pawny (played by a spectacularly uninterested-sounding Kumail Nanjiani) for no real reason. The globe-trotting exploits are clearly meant to lend another Bond-like aspect, but really just leave the film feeling unrooted. This series has always felt best when it plays with a known location, showing you how an alien society could work among humdrum real life, transforming the expected into the unexpected. International doesn’t give you a chance to see anything like that for more than a few minutes before the plot’s moved on and left any potential jokes behind.
More than anything else, International feels soulless. The first Men In Black was pleasingly grimy; its aliens wobbling around under Rick Baker’s exquisite prosthetics, heads exploding in fountains of slime, squid children puking on agents after traumatic tentacle births. At times, it was a gross-out comedy for the Nickelodeon generation. By comparison, International feels as sleek and clean as its weaponry, and loses a lot for it. The satirical bite is gone from the dialogue, the emotional beats artificially saccharine rather than truly sweet. Worst of all, the aliens feel unthreatening, unsurprising, and unremarkable.
It’s a common complaint to say CGI can make things feel weightless, but it’s never been more appropriate than in the twin antagonists here (played by French dancers Les Twins), who are on the search for an extraterrestrial MacGuffin, and manage to sidestep every potentially dangerous situation by just turning into some gas. It renders even the film’s best setpiece – a gunfight set around a particularly well-equipped Jaguar – essentially pointless. No matter how big and well-designed the weaponry gets, M and H are shooting at what amounts two clouds, with all the lack of tension that entails.