Film review: Men In Black: International's glitz merely conceals a lack of substance
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones set the pace with the original Men In Black back in 1997 – can the fourth instalment in the franchise keep up? Damon Smith finds out
MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (12A, 115 mins) Sci-Fi/Action/Adventure/Comedy/Romance. Liam Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson, Rafe Spall, Dame Emma Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson and the voice of Kumail Nanjiani. Director: F Gary Gray.
Released: June 14 (UK & Ireland)
IN THE lyrics to Will Smith's Grammy Award-winning song Men In Black, which played over the end credits to Barry Sonnenfeld's 1997 sci-fi caper, the Fresh Prince raps, "We're your first, last and only line of defence against the worst scum of the universe. So don't fear us, cheer us..."
Regrettably, there's little to fear and almost nothing to cheer in the faltering fourth instalment of a franchise which has lain dormant since Smith and Tommy Lee Jones relinquished their neutralisers as Agents J and K in 2012.
Liam Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson – Thor and Valkyrie in Avengers: Endgame – take up the mantle as sharply suited protectors of our digitally rendered galaxy, and grimly accept the Herculean task of emulating the rat-a-tat banter of their predecessors.
Screenwriting duo Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, who contributed to the script of Iron Man, could have eased that burden by providing an arsenal of snappy one-liners and well-placed satirical barbs about gender equality.
Instead, Men In Black: International repeatedly shoots blanks and relies on sporadic laughs from Kumail Nanjiani as the voice of a miniature alien called Pawny, whose delightfully deadpan delivery incorporates pop culture riffs on Kanye West and tear-jerking romance The Notebook.
Dame Emma Thompson is the only member of human cast to return to the fray. She purses her Oscar-winning lips as Agent O, who is dumbfounded when the New York headquarters of MIB is infiltrated by call centre worker Molly (Thompson), who has been searching for extra-terrestrial life since a childhood close encounter with a cuddly alien.
Impressed by Molly's dogged determination, Agent O erases the interloper's past and christens her Agent M before a crash course in weapons and intergalactic protocol.
Agent M is posted to the London office run by High T (Liam Neeson) to assist his top operative, Agent H (Hemsworth), with protection detail for an otherworldly visitor called Vungus The Ugly.
An attempt on Vungus's life by shape-shifting twins exposes a potential mole within MIB ranks. Agents H and M embark on a globe-trotting quest for answers that pits them against jealous rival Agent C (Rafe Spall) and H's old flame Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), a "merchant of murder" who deals arms from a fortified fortress off the coast of Naples.
Men In Black: International festoons the screen with outlandish firepower, high-velocity chases and fantastical creatures, but all that expensive, shiny wrapping merely conceals a depressing lack of substance.
The script boasts a single Marvel Comics reference – a throwaway visual gag involving Hemsworth and a hammer – snuggled up against mandatory sideswipes at the gender imbalance of the film's title.
"Don't start," despairs Agent O, "I've had the conversation."
In contrast, F Gary Gray's film has nothing new to say.