Spinning off into the MIB universe once more

Men In Black: International lacks substance in its story

Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, aka Thor and Valkyrie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, are back, teaming up and kicking butt in a whole other universe.

Men In Black: International takes its characters from New York to London to Marrakesh. We follow Agent M (Thompson), who's been obsessed with the MIB since a youthful encounter. When she finally discovers them, Agent O (the ever wonderful Emma Thompson, reprising her role from previous instalment as the head of MIB) takes her in on probation and sends her to London on a mission. While there, M meets Agent H (Hemsworth, without his fat suit) and his boss High T (Liam Neeson), and soon gets herself involved in the extraterrestrial business following the death of an alien royal.

It's indeed hard not to compare this spin-off to the franchise's previous trilogy. The film needs a lot to live up to its predecessors. Thompson and Hemsworth, for instance, make a likeable pair. They have good chemistry, but it's really nothing like the story's iconic mismatched duo Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, whose bantering and polar-opposite nature made for comedy and contributed to the franchise's success back in the day. The duo in International, on the other hand, is amiable and somewhat stuck in the lightly teased "are they, aren't they" kind of relationship that doesn't quite go anywhere, similar to their character development.

The film has several opportunities to delve into some deep issues with its characters and storyline. Instead, the somewhat predictable plot seems to deliberately skip over all of that, and what we end up with is fleeting fun that is simply moderate in a lot of ways. It's still quite enjoyable to watch, and there is laughter here and there (even a joke referencing Thor's hammer), but it could've been so much more than that with its premise and setting. The comedy, as well as the drama, could definitely dig deeper.

Of course, we still appreciate the inclusion. MIB is on to the workplace's equal-employment-opportunities scheme, but calls itself Men In Black anyway, and the characters acknowledge this in a joke between the women of MIB. It's a process. We hear you.

Making a woman half of the leading duo for the first time, it's interesting to see how the film portrays her. Thompson's Agent M reminds me of Captain Marvel, and of course Valkyrie herself. None overtly feminine, but rather cool, suave women who can take matters into their own hands. I would've loved to see more development in M, to really see what she's capable of, but the story doesn't exactly allow her to do so to her full potential. Again with the character development. I definitely will be looking for this improvement in the sequel, if there is one.

Another thing we have to talk about is the aliens.

Their character design surely has changed a lot. We've come a long way from the slimy, gruesome bugs of the 1997 film. The 2019 aliens are mostly fluffy, cute and colourful, and definitely better for merchandising than the older versions of MIB's aliens. In Imax, the display of the cosmic, ground-melting antagonistic twin aliens was gorgeous. That said, I might add that none of the aliens is really visually menacing, which takes a significant edge away from the film.

The film doesn't focus much on its previously well-known aliens, like the talking pug or the worm guys. The production could've incorporated them more, considering that they'll most likely be an easy hit with fans of the franchise. At the same time, perhaps they may want to take a new direction, with new characters, without dwelling too much on the old.

All in all, MIB: International does bring back the nostalgia of the familiar franchise and expands the scope of extraterrestrial lives on Earth beyond the borders of the US. It remains to be seen how its future will fare. The film's still entertaining, with a charming cast in tow. Wowing audiences with big guns and high-tech subways is great and all, but we could really do with more substance in the story.