Here come the Men in Black, best known for those nifty little devices that can erase your memory — and based on the first reviews for Men in Black International (in theaters everywhere this Friday, June 14) — that might not be such a bad thing.
The fourth installment in the sci-fi/comedy/action franchise kicked off by Barry Sonnenfeld in 1997, now falls under the control of director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton), who critics say just can't seem to recapture the magic of the first three movies. They note some of that has to do with the absence of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, but that may have not mattered had the script (penned by Iron Man duo Art Marcum and Matt Holloway) not been so muddled, derivative, and, sometimes, flat-out boring.
Don't worry, though, the entire affair isn't a total loss. Critics are taking the time to recognize the crackling chemistry between the film's two leads: Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth. Having sharpened their onscreen dynamic in Thor: Ragnarok, the two actors take up the posts of Agents M and H respectively. M, a new and probationary recruit to the New York branch, has been trying to track down the agency since childhood. H, on the other hand, is a veteran of the London office, but in recent years, he's turned into a cocky and destructive shadow of his former self.
Rather than rebooting the entire franchise, International builds on what's come before, expanding the canon to other countries, mainly England, France, Morocco, and Italy. Fighting against the worst scum of the universe is no longer contained to New York.
Thompson and Hemsworth's co-leads are just as impressive as they are: Emma Thompson (the only returning character from the last three movies), Liam Neeson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rebecca Ferguson, Rafe Spall, and Les Twins.
Don your Ray-Ban sunglasses and find out what critics are saying below...
"Director Gray doesn’t share Barry Sonnenfeld’s skill for juggling live-action and visual effects, which leaves the actors looking awkward as they react to computer-generated aliens that never convincingly appear to share their reality — a not-insignificant problem in a film shot largely on green screen and clumsily composited in post." -Peter Debruge, Variety
"The sometimes bizarre and often deadpan humor of the original trio, which were all directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, has been replaced by an energetic approach from F. Gary Gray that too often crosses the line into the frantic. Thompson carries with her a poise and center of gravity that prevents her from being caught in the frenzy that has, unfortunately, snared Hemsworth, encouraged to overdo his posturing as a dashing agent who, until now, has never met a dilemma he's not been able to charm, wriggle or talk his way out of." -Todd McCarthy, THR
"That lack of tension pervades the entirety of International. It feels like Men In Black by numbers, a trudge from one set-piece to the next untidily glued together by weak gags and sharp suits, never getting us to care about its characters or the world-changing stakes. In fact, like the first film’s Bug bad guy, it feels as though something unfamiliar is wearing Men In Black’s skin - except what’s inside is, somehow, just really dull." -Joe Skrebels, IGN
"Men in Black International introduces some interesting ideas about the organization's role in brokering peace between Earth and numerous alien races. However, those ideas get lost first in a rehash of the standard Men in Black premise of protecting a key alien artifact from a foe that's hunting the agents down. Then, any compelling exploration of the themes of Men in Black's role in the larger universe is muddled by a third act twist. Altogether, there are enough new ideas in International to set it apart from previous films in the Men in Black franchise, but just like the original, the leading duo are most important to the film's success." -Molly Freeman, ScreenRant
"Men in Black International will not be the best movie you see this year. There are plot issues, character arcs go unfinished, and the ending felt rushed. But it’s still a campy, cool sci-fi spy thriller—one that coasts on the natural charisma of Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, who may be one of this generation’s best comedic duos. In a sense, it kind of feels like the perfect sequel to the original Men in Black. It’s an entertaining movie made better by the people in it." -Beth Elderkin, Gizmodo
"Is it fun? Some of it’s fun. But the action is more straight-up violence than comically tinged action violence. Sonnenfeld found a magically right balance of tones and styles in that first MIB outing, and he never quite found it again. Director Gray likewise struggles to locate the right mixture, though you can tell he appreciates what, and who, he has in Tessa Thompson." -Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
"Hemsworth and Thompson play off each other well, even if they don’t have the same giddy energy they did in Ragnarok. But after a few character-building moments at the beginning of the movie, H and M function mostly as cogs in the convoluted plot, which drags on far too long and never features a compelling (or even clear) antagonist. The original MIB trilogy distinguished itself by its oddball alien villains, but the primary bad guys here are a pair of alien twins (played by real-life twins Laurent and Larry Nicolas Bourgeois of the dance duo Les Twins) who barely ever speak and have a muddled agenda." -Josh Bell, Comic Book Resources
"The story trudges through an uninteresting series of permutations and CGI detonations. The 'International' of the title means we travel from New York to London and Marrakesh, although our trio’s appearance in each location could as well have been achieved via a green screen. All the sprightliness that Hemsworth showed in the Avengers movies and in the Ghostbusters remake is nowhere to be found: both script and direction mean that the spark isn’t there, and Thompson has no real chance to shine." -Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
"This entire globe-trotting adventure is clunky from the get-go. Each new destination seems to be just another detour from the actual story, feeling more like excuses to show off a new alien or expensive set rather than actual plot devices. Almost nothing the characters do throughout the film feels like it has a purpose, despite their mundane explanations that they do." -Charlie Ridgley, ComicBook.com
"Story-wise, International suffers from the same two issues plaguing most big-money blockbusters of the last few years: A barely-explained MacGuffin and a personality-free villain to chase after it. There’s certainly no brilliant turn here like the Vincent D’Onofrio bug-in-a-human-suit from the original MiB, and there is definitely no 'galaxy is on Orion’s belt' level twist." -Vinnie Mancuso, Collider
"It's puzzling that a movie brimming with aliens, and existing in a science-fiction environment that’s ripe for wild extraterrestrial exploration, can end up being so unimaginative. But Men In Black International feels staid and flat, even as Hemsworth (doing his familiar 'polished dunce' act) tries to inject levity opposite Thompson’s patient rookie agent." -Sean O'Connell, CinemaBlend
"Men in Black: International, which launches Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth into a bland variation on the same MiB routine, lacks the energy or ambition to make its intergalactic stakes into anything more than baffling cash grab. This misconceived attempt to inject a tired franchise with new life ends up as little more than an empty vessel." -Eric Kohn, IndieWire