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[Herald Review] ‘Men in Black: International,’ not-so exciting spinoff to beloved series

The “Men in Black” series was absurd, bombastic, outrageous and a whole lot of fun. Sure, the trilogy may have been uneven in terms of quality, but the unlikely duo of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones have always managed to provide laughs with their fun-packed adventures.

Aside from aliens, a few familiar faces, a good joke here and there and admittedly-good action, “Men in Black: International” didn’t really feel like an MIB movie, though that doesn’t mean the sci-fi/adventure film is terrible.

Director F. Gary Gray’s movie starts with the UK’s finest MIB agent H and the branch’s head High T -- played by Chris Hemsworth and Liam Neeson, respectively -- taking down a dangerous mutating alien race called the “Hybrid.”

Meanwhile, Molly (Tessa Thompson) -- who had a run-in with an alien and the Men in Black as a child -- tracks down the top-secret agency and convinces O, the head of MIB’s US branch, to hire her as a probationary agent, M.

Smart, knowledgeable and headstrong, M teams up with H on a mission to guard alien royalty, but gets dragged into an intergalactic conspiracy when the mission goes horribly wrong.

“Men in Black: International” (Lotte Entertainment)
“Men in Black: International” (Lotte Entertainment)

Seeing the familiar fonts of the MIB series in the opening scene took me back to the late 1990s, when annoying dramatic close-ups were everywhere and “Wassuuuuuup” was a thing for some reason. It had me nostalgic and craving for a cheesy, cartoony film, even more so after Neeson’s “I hate Paris” line. Corny? Yes, but I was ready to eat it up.

Then the film slapped me awake from my delusion.

The tone of the movie was very different from the original. The MIB trilogy was more like a cartoon than the comics it was based on, which were actually not so light-hearted. Even the death scenes in “Men in Black: International” were somewhat grotesque, unlike the silly and gross ones in the original.

Hemsworth and Thompson are both charming actors whose presence can be felt on screen, but with a weak script, they felt like cheap knockoffs. This is supposed to be a buddy film, yet their chemistry was not strong, and I felt that their pairing and quarreling in “Thor: Ragnarok” was more convincing and fun. It’s unfortunate because Thompson is a very talented actress, and Hemsworth can be incredibly funny.

So, this wasn’t a good “MIB film.” How does it hold up on its own merit, then? To that I’d say, just OK.

The action wasn’t bad, and the jokes -- while not hilarious -- start to pick up toward the end. But the characters were just not that memorable. Although they did have some funny moments, the hero pair weren’t that impressive, and the surprise villain was disappointing and obvious.

I also saw some lazy writing that worked all too conveniently for the protagonists. To be fair, the original MIB films had their fair share of implausible moments and coincidences. But they were virtually cartoons. They were supposed to be stupid and funny.

This is one of the problems with “Men in Black: International”: The film seems uncertain whether it wants to be completely goofy and out-there, or to have a serious edge.

In fact, the film picks up in the third act, when it seems to have decided to abandon all reason and to take the goofy and fun route. It was then it finally felt like a MIB movie.

Another upside was the character Pawny, a tiny alien the heroes befriend who is both funny and likeable. Overshadowing the protagonists when he is onscreen, he was another part of the film that felt truly “MIB.”

Compared to the original, it was a huge let-down, but the film definitely has its moments. The 115-minute film might have been better if the director had cut about 20 minutes of convoluted plot points and exposition and just left all the fun stuff in, which are definitely there.

Truth be told, I just wanted to see a funny-as-hell action flick about secret agents busting aliens.

The film opened in local theaters Wednesday.

By Yoon Min-sik