The trend of summer franchise reboots is to put women in the driver’s seat who are sick of being called “men.”
On the heels of X-Men’s “Dark Phoenix” comes “Men in Black: International,” in which Emma Thompson and Tessa Thompson share a cringe over the secretive alien-fighting organization’s outdated name. Alas, we can’t say this comes even close to being “feminist,” but we acknowledge your effort, Hollywood.
The better move is casting Tessa Thompson in the role of a funny, whip-smart, ahem, Person in Black. In fact, she is what makes this otherwise completely unnecessary reboot work.
It’s still unclear why we needed a fourth “MiB” seven years after the last one, other than the fact that some studio exec thought it was a chance to cash in on the series’ track record at the box office. Still, it helps that they’ve cleaned the slate entirely, making way for stars such as Thompson and Chris Hemsworth to don the suits and sunglasses.
Thompson and Hemsworth are a dynamic duo, as proven in “Thor: Ragnarok.” This is likely due to Thompson being the only young star in Hollywood whose charisma not only stands up to Hemsworth’s, but actually outshines the charming Aussie hunk.
In the role of Molly, who is obsessed with aliens after a childhood encounter and goes on to fulfill her dream of joining the Men in Black, Thompson steps into a far more comedic role than the ones in which we’ve seen her. And she is more than up to the task.
The story involves Agent O (Emma Thompson) sending Agent M (Tessa Thompson) to Europe (thus the “International” part of the title), where she teams up with Agent H (Hemsworth).
Directed by F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”) and written by the team of Matt Holloway and Art Marcum (“Iron Man”), “Men in Black: International” has a decidedly retro ’90s feel. There are some laughs and some action but very little thinking. It is tightly plotted, but it has loose comedic timing.
Unfortunately, it also is saddled with 20 unnecessary minutes of computer-generated visual noise tacked onto the end for higher stakes or something. Double crosses, end-of-the-world-type stuff. Feel free to dip out around minute 95.
In what could otherwise be just another bland action comedy sprinkled with sci-fi, “Men in Black: International” has a few secret weapons.
One is the atomic-grade charm of Thompson and Hemsworth. The second is Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”), who voices a tiny alien named Pawny the pair pick up in Marrakech and who pledges fealty to Agent M. As a miniature sidekick, he becomes a crucial element. Not only to the team, but to the film’s overall humor and silliness, which is an important task.
Despite the nagging questions about whether we really needed a new installment of the franchise, “International” makes its case with a troika of winning stars, a breakneck pace and a tone that never takes itself too seriously, which means you don’t have to, either. It’s more fun that way, anyway.