‘Men In Black: International’ Feels Like The True Spiritual Successor To MIB
Whatever you’ve heard, Men In Black: International is actually awesome. I’m going to level with you. You might feel a little conflicted about it, but you will probably like this movie better than any of the previous ones in the franchise except the first (and maybe even that one).
Head’s up: While no major spoilers are in this article, there are a few small ones. Proceed with caution.
Men In Black International feels like the first MIB sequel to capture the true spirit of Men In Black.
The original Men In Black was a fun, silly, exciting movie with heart. The problem is the sequels. They had an increasingly narrow focus, and movies like that don’t have the best long-term franchise potential. Franchises need consistency and rich world-building and semi-credible personal stakes. Men In Black 2 immediately destroyed any credible threat to the main characters by undoing Agent K’s retirement with a contrived “wait we need K back For Super Important Reasons” storyline. Clearly there was no reason to be invested in the main characters– nothing was permanent and they weren’t allowed to change significantly.
While the actors were amazing, there just wasn’t room for the characters to surprise us.
MIB 3 tried to backtrack with time travel, and while it was fun to watch it was kind of unsatisfying. The franchise’s wider promise (that is could deliver more than stories about two agents and their complicated lives) was never fulfilled- until Men In Black: International.
International puts all the best parts of MIB on display. It’s fast, funny, and full of wonder.
More importantly, this movie does what the first two sequels couldn’t quite manage. It made a way for other actors to carry the MIB torch. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones were a genius pairing, and they’re basically the main reason two sequels got made in the first place. They can’t just spend the rest of their lives making Men In Black movies, though. Other characters made so little impact that some were written out entirely off-screen without being missed. Now, though–now we have structure for a long future.
If whiny fans and critics don’t mess it up by tanking the earnings, that is. A lot of early reviews are complaining that there’s Not Enough Will Smith, that there’s Some Girl In This, that the movie Just Isn’t The Same.
Ignore those reviews. This is a great summer movie that everyone who likes fun should go watch. I prepared for Men In Black: International by watching the previous 3 movies all in one day. International is as good as Men In Black and significantly better than 2 or 3. Go watch them again if you’re not sure, because nostalgia can blind you to something good.
I’m going to take what is apparently a controversial stance here. It’s okay for franchises to try new things. As long as the core themes and central tone are honored, trying new things only adds depth and interest to a franchise.
Men In Black: International certainly tries new things. First off, the agents get to be real people. Experienced Men In Black used to be shown as unfailingly cool and under control, and that was fun for a while… but it got old, and kind of boring. Compare it to playing a video game on God Mode. There’s just not a lot of excitement once you get over the mindless joy of obliterating every obstacle in your path, and sooner or later you want something fresh and challenging again.
With this movie we see agents who are unsure of what’s right and wrong. We see agents who are suspicious of each other. We see an agent who’s a little out of control, as well as what it takes for that to happen. (Side note: the larger implications of that final reveal are kind of heart-breaking when you think about it.) The Men In Black are freed to struggle with real issues like real people.
It doesn’t go too far in that direction, either. When things get too deep, there’s always a fun action sequence to kick up the pace. I liked 90% of the action sequences here. A couple are kind of silly, but it isn’t distracting and is in keeping with the past movies.
There’s a lot of “under the hood” world building, too. A huge part of creating a future for Men In Black as a franchise is introducing more complexity, and we get a double dose of that. I can think of four exciting, fresh plot hooks for future movies right now just based on Men In Black: International.
Though the whole point of this review is that the movie paves the way for a rotating cast of actors, the current cast doesn’t feel like an afterthought. They’re really, really good. Emma Thompson gives Agent O a different spin than Zed from the first movies, but it works. She feels like someone you can respect and admire. One of my few critiques comes here, though: why did Zed get a codename while Agent O gets a letter? That’s weird, right? Shouldn’t all branch chiefs get single word codenames if one had it? Or are we pretending Zed was always Agent Z?
Agents H and M are a major hit. Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth established their solid platonic chemistry in Thor: Ragnarok. In Men In Black International they prove they can do subtle romantic tension as well. The showrunners do a great job of not making romance a major theme, because that would be kind of lame. Instead, they use that tension to underscore why Men In Black operate the way they do. Agents have to give up that part of their lives while they’re with the MIB, because it just doesn’t work any other way.
A few minor quibbles:
- Did the Men In Black who responded to M’s childhood encounter really not go upstairs to check her room? Really?
- I liked the callbacks to the earlier series, but there came a point where it felt like there were a few too many. A little goes a long way, people.
- I wasn’t a fan of the Riza side arc, if I’m honest. It felt a little ridiculous that this would be a thing Agent H got away with, even considering Other Factors which I won’t name because, hey, spoilers. In fact, given the truly erratic behavior H shows, and had shown, for a really long time, I’m surprised the ending happened like it did. Then again, maybe MIB in general is used to erratic behavior and they always focus on the Now. Very enlightened of them, but it seems dangerous in practice.
It’s worth mentioning that I saw the twist coming a mile off–but having just watched the earlier movies, that was also true there. The Men In Black series is clearly not about shocking twists. It’s about enjoying the journey and watching the characters struggle to get where the audience already is.
The bottom line is this: Men In Black: International lays a really solid foundation for more MIB movies. Better movies. Movies where anyone could be an agent. We could have a new agent team every few movies, with new stories and new adventures. WE COULD MAKE MEN IN BLACK THE BOND OF ALIEN MOVIES.
So please. Ignore the fact that Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are only in this movie as a hilarious poster in MIB Headquarters. Go watch Men In Black: International yourself. You just might realize that this is the best way forward for the franchise- and it’s actually a lot of fun.
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and game enthusiast. She can talk fandom in five languages, and her proudest nerd moment so far was presenting original research titled “Gender, Sex, and Werewolves” at an international anthropological conference. Her first game, None For Me, is due out from Calico Games early next year.
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