The original Men In Black was an unexpected gem. The unlikely chemistry between Tommy Lee Jones's stony-faced Agent K and Will Smith's lovably cocky Agent J formed the backbone of a film which steamrolled merrily along through an engaging and action-packed plot.
The film's costume design was just as fresh, popularising the now-iconic Men In Black look which has gone on to become a cinematic standard for 'secretive government agent' types.
Men In Black: International, unfortunately, is not so strong. After a promising opening sequence involving a flashback within a flashback, the film meanders and staggers through a barely-there plot, which even in its strongest moments felt like a rehash of the original 1997 movie’s storyline.
After an early childhood encounter with the MIB, Molly (Tessa Thompson) spends the next 20 years seeking employment within the ultra-secretive organisation. She eventually does so, joining MIB’s New York branch under the supervision of Agent O (Emma Thompson). As part of her “probationary period”, she’s assigned to shadow the arrogant, charming Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) in the agency’s London contingency, headed up by High T (Liam Neeson). The duo then embarks upon on a whirlwind tour of Europe and North Africa, in a bid to prevent the world from yet another intergalactic threat.
Unengaged performances and dialogue brimming with exposition make this an unlively instalment in the MIB franchise, which has failed to ever recapture the magic of its first feature.
The costume design is of course based once again on the iconic 'black suit and shades' look of the MIB, but something feels off about it. Perhaps it's the cinematic standard now, with 4K cameras exposing more detail than the cameras of the 1990s, but the suits somehow feel cheaper here, the shades plastic and tacky. The silver space-age weapons which seemed so gloriously weighty and mechanical in the original now feel like cheap plastic toys.
The panoply of colourful alien characters is gorgeously realised, though, and provides some eye-candy for the first third. But it all just feels like the film is trying to patch over its weaknesses with special effects and crazy costumes. These elements should enhance a film's already strong central narrative, and without it, they just seem ungrounded and wafty and fail to engage the viewer.