Men in Black: International
“Gender equality should be shown, not joked about.”
Title: Men In Black: International (2019)
Director: F. Gary Gray 👨🏾🇺🇸
Writers: Art Marcum 👨🏼🇺🇸 and Matt Holloway 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Joi Childs 👩🏾🇺🇸
We’ve done this “MIB” dance before, when Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones capped off their successful trilogy in 2012. Now seven years later, the spin-off is here with new faces, an international romp, and hopes to recreate the magic of the OG series.
Men In Black: International features Tessa Thompson as Agent M, a probational American agent with serious skills and Chris Hemsworth as Agent H, the best field agent of the UK branch which acts as home base for their international adventures. Taking work spouse codependency to new heights, the chemistry that Hemsworth and Thompson displayed in Thor: Ragnarok (and briefly in Avengers: Endgame) hasn’t dimmed one iota. Their banter brings a bit of spark to the film, as does Kumail Nanjiani who voices Pawny, an alien who has pledged his loyalty to Agent M.
Unfortunately, good performances do little to mask the bland story that surrounds them. Their globetrotting escapade feels so paint-by-numbers, that even outlandish aliens, like those who function as facial hair, can’t save it.
As the first female co-lead in the Men in Black franchise, Agent M uses sharp logic to pursue her goals but (in her own words) has no life, since keeping a secret identity leaves little room for personal relationships. In fact, it’s one of the reasons Agent M was recruited to the organization in the first place. And while M and H do skirt flirtatiousness with their interactions, their dynamic thankfully stays professional and platonic.
Emma Thompson returns as Agent O, the head of the U.S. branch who accepts M’s plea to join the organization. While her role is limited, she stands out as a woman of wisdom who develops a rapport with Agent M that feels like a teaser for a mentor/mentee relationship in future films. Rounding out the women with speaking roles, Riza (Rebecca Ferguson) serves as an intergalactic arms dealer and the ex-girlfriend of H. Although she sits in a position of power, her character is directly linked to a man’s narrative.
Beyond Agents M and O, women feel rare in group shots of the MIB’s UK branch. The “Men AND WOMEN in Black” joke falls just as flat in the film as it does in the trailer. Worse yet, another variation of it sneaks into an earlier part of the film. Gender equality should be shown, not joked about.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 18% of key cast and crew members were POC.
It’s no secret that MIB: International takes place in an interspecies universe where a variety of alien lifeforms and humans co-habitate. Director F. Gary Gray alludes to the connection between the “otherness” of these species and modern-day immigration. In one scene, M converses with an alien coworker about their family and how they came to Earth years ago (think: Ellis Island for extraterrestrials). While fleeting, the scene does draw parallels between the “great migration” of aliens to Earth and the ever-relevant topic of immigration.
Outside of M, played by Thompson who is Afro-Latina with Panamanian and Mexican ancestry, a shapeshifting duo called The Hive features French dancers Les Twins, of Guadeloupean descent (and Beyoncé-touring fame). In addition, Nanjiani’s Pawny enjoys a standout role but follows the Marvel trend of obscuring Asian actors behind alien visages, as seen with Dave Bautista’s Drax or Pom Klementieff’s Mantis.
Beyond these core personas, other characters of color are relegated to background roles. Fortunately, however, no cliches make their way into the film.
Mediaversity Grade: C+ 3.50/5
Men in Black: International provides a mostly enjoyable experience. It makes an effort to cast with diversity in mind, but unfortunately, a feeling of vapidness persists. Adventures by Agents H, M, and Pawny fail to engage the way the original movies did, and battles seem to reap fewer rewards. It’s too bad, considering the strength of the Men in Black franchise overall. Thompson, Hemsworth, and Nanjiani deserved a better platform for their magnetic performances.