This week “The Avengers,” well, at least one of them, aren’t saving the world. Instead Thor portrayer Chris Hemsworth sets his sights a little lower, breathing new life into the flailing “Men in Black” franchise. Twenty-two years after the original hit film and a few years after a cancelled third sequel he’s joined by Marvel Universe citizens, “Avengers: Endgame’s” Tessa Thompson and “Iron Man” writers Matt Holloway and Art Marcum. The question is, Can the mighty Marvel alumni bring some of their magic to a different universe?
This reboot keeps the basics of the franchise. There are still loads of chatty aliens, Emma Thompson returns and the Men in Black remain a nattily dressed but top-secret organization that monitors and polices alien activity on Earth. They’ve managed to stay undercover for decades by the use of a neuralyzer, a device that erases the memories of those who witness their efforts to keep the world safe from alien attack. It’s a failsafe but in at least one case it isn’t entirely effective. In a flashback we see a family, including a young girl named Molly (Mandeiya Flory), neuralyzed after an incident.
Cut to present day. Now grown up Molly (now played by (Thompson) is about to realize her life-long dream, to become part of the best kept secret in the universe. “It took me twenty years to find you” she says to Agent O (Emma Thompson) head of MIB’s US branch. “I found you which makes me perfect for this job.” Dubbed Agent M, she is assigned to the UK branch, headed by High T (Liam Neeson) and teamed with Agent H (Hemsworth), her mission is to root out the biggest MIB threat yet, a mole in the organization. “We are the Men in Black,” says Agent H, “errr, the men and Women in Black.”
Unless there is a mass neuralization of audiences “Men in Black: International” will not make us forget the charms of the first “MIB” film. Director F. Gary Gray’s take on the film delivers actors with sparkling chemistry—Hemsworth and Thompson first lit up the screen in 2017s “Thor: Ragnarok” and continue to do so here—who elevate an otherwise unremarkable reboot of a well-loved franchise.
It has the earmarks of the original but, aside from Kumail Nanjiani as a tiny Marvin the Martian-esque alien named Pawny, there is nothing extra special about the extraterrestrials. For a movie about the “scum of the universe,” that seems like a missed opportunity. Nanjiani is provides some much need comic relief in the film’s last section but where is the creativity in the creature design?
Having said all that, despite the predictability of the plot, the chemistry on display makes “Men in Black: International” a fun, lightweight romp.