Here are two immensely talented, appealing movie stars who fail to make any impression at all. For that matter, the lively chemistry they demonstrated in Thor: Ragnarok is nowhere to be seen. Oh, they joke and run and chase CG creatures and pretend to shoot things, but the end result isn’t that different from being blasted with a neuralyzer: I walked out slightly dazed but curiously empty, unable to remember much of anything that happened in the past couple of hours.
What I do recall is the beginning. The film opens reasonably enough, establishing Agent H as a real Chris Hemsworth type, which is to say half Bond, half surfer bro, all charm. Agent M (Thompson) is introduced in a separate montage as a young woman who stumbled across a hint of this secret universe as a child, and spent the rest of her life trying to track d
H and M and their colleagues, including Liam Neeson as big boss High T and Rafe Spall as frustrated agent C, turn out not to be characters so much as ideas of characters, waiting for a better script to come along and equip them with personalities and motivations. (The credit for this one goes to Matt Holloway and Art Meacum, though the pacing and plotting are so odd I have to assume much of what they wrote wound up on the cutting room floor.)
The story half-heartedly plods from city to city, apparently for no other reason than to earn the “International” of the title and collect some sweet tax breaks. We’re dutifully introduced to alien creatures like a basically normal-looking lady with a kooky hairdo and a single extra arm, and invited to laugh at a cheesy reference to Thor. Yawn.
F. Gary Gray’s direction feels indifferent. He goes through the motions of giving us the big action-y set pieces we’ve come to expect from splashy summer sequels like these, but the sense of place he showed in Straight Outta Compton and the buzzy energy of Fate of the Furious are absent here. Perhaps he simply couldn’t afford to bring them back: The sets and effects look cheap across the board, in a way that might have read as endearingly ramshackle had the rest of the film been stronger, but instead just come across as another disappointment on a long list of them.
If the first Men in Black invited us into the realm of the otherworldly, International suggests there isn’t actually a whole lot there worth seeing.
Among the few bright spots are Pawny, a snarky little alien who looks like a Funko Pop and sounds like Kumail Nanjiani. He’s one of the few characters that feels exactly as fleshed out as he needs to be, and he projects some of that vivacity onto his scene partners. When he’s around, it’s almost possible to believe that M and H have a genuine connection, or that any of their wild rides are actually fun.
But even he can’t do much to sell the emotional elements introduced late in the film. International tries to transform, very late in the movie, as a story about love and trauma and… friendship? and… trying to find an appropriate work-life balance? Or something? There are moments shot and scored to let us know we’re supposed to be moved, but it’s hard to say by what exactly, since they hinge on relationships we didn’t know existed and characters we barely understand to begin with.
Which, again, is odd, considering we’re watching Hemsworth and Thompson here. They’re not exactly phoning it in, but there’s only so much they seem able to do with what they’re given. Even their combined forces can’t elevate International beyond the level of a third-choice in-flight movie. If the first Men in Black invited us to take a peek into the realm of the otherworldly, International suggests there isn’t actually a whole lot there worth seeing.