Between Shaft and MiB International, this past weekend was a good one for sequels/spin-offs for franchises that haven’t been around in a while. The formula seems to be take the movie, set it as a new place with new actors, and add some connections to the original movies.
Granted, MIB International has fewer connections to the older movies, but it’s still treated as a sequel.
After a few early scenes bounding around in time, we meet adult Molly Wright (Tessa Thompson). As a girl, she and her parents had an alien encounter, but the Men in Black didn’t wipe her memories. They just assumed she was asleep. After years of diligent research, Molly finds Men in Black headquarters. Due to her hard work and impressive resume, Emma Thompson’s Agent O (one of the few returning cast members) gives her probational membership. The newly dubbed Agent M gets her first assignment. Something is wrong in the London branch of the Men in Black. And so, off she goes, teaming up with the London branch’s best agent, the seemingly inept Agent H (Chris Hemsworth).
What’s wrong? An alien prince comes to Earth, but isn’t sure he can trust H with the information. But then an assassination attempt gives everyone the idea that the bureau has been compromised. M, and M alone, has a clue to what’s going on. Can she trust anyone with that information? Particularly when she finds herself estranged from the Bureau with only H and a small alien named Pawny (voice of Kumail Nanjiani) as back-up. Sure, H’s boss High T (Liam Neeson) seems to be helpful, but can she even trust H let alone High T?
The new MIB is a decent movie, but I could say the same about all of the previous sequels. Maybe the original, too. These were quirky movies, not necessarily hugely funny, but they did well enough at the box office to earn some sequels. Did we need more MIB? Probably not, but we kept getting them anyway. This new movie feels about as consequential as the previous ones. When even main characters in a movie can’t seem to get all that worked up about a world-ending threat, why should the audience?
I will say that while new director F. Gary Gray doesn’t do the sort of surreal comedy that original director Barry Sonnenfeld specializes in, he does do better with the action scenes. I spent much of the movie amused but don’t recall laughing out loud at any given moment. Like Shaft, I didn’t dislike it, but also don’t think it’s worth rushing out to see. It will probably be fine for a discount theater or cable viewing. All in all, I liked Shaft a little bit more, but I’m giving it the same grade. 7.5 out of 10 three-armed arms dealers.