3 Stars – Thought-Provoking
For fans of the Men in Black franchise, MIB International has familiar themes and even appropriates a lot of the humor of previous chapters. Directed by F. Gary Gray and written by two newcomers to the franchise, Matt Holloway and Art Marcum who had worked together on Ironman, they joined veteran MIB writer Lowell Cunningham. However, having a new director and creating a new writing team did not overcome the necessity of bringing something new to the story, as we saw was lacking in MIB 2 and MIB 3. Even the newest recruit Agent M (Tessa Thompson) is not the first woman nor is she the first black character. This fourth film does not carry the name of MIB 4 for the obvious reason that the partnership of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones is nowhere to be found.
That is not to say the new ensemble cast is not adequate or that they do not need to save the world! The three central characters are the ever charming Chris Hemsworth as Agent H; the newcomer and life long fan of MIB, Agent M, and the small sidekick Pawny voiced by Kumail Nanjiani. As would be predictable in such an ensemble the relationship between Agent H and Agent M has romantic hints while the spunky Pawny provides not just a comic presence but a diminutive hero able to act in ways that help save our world.
Playing lesser roles is the new head of MIB International, Agent O (Emma Thompson), Agent High T (Liam Neeson) who is responsible for the London office, Agent C (Rafe Spall) who is a competitive and ambitious coworker to Agent H, and the alluring international arms dealer Riza (Rebecca Ferguson) who is both a past flame and mortal enemy of Agent H.
The genius of the first film with the suggestion that some of the craziness in a city like Manhattan is due to aliens living among us. Now the story is that it is world-wide. A super-train connecting the various MIB offices with the world’s cities is a fascinating requirement of an international organization, but this shift actually makes the story less remarkable. Now a global phenomenon with aliens living and invading throughout the world, the sense that an outside-of-government agency could save doesn’t work as well. But that is not to say that earth is not threatened or that MIB is not necessary in this tale.
The moral struggle within this film focuses primarily on two aspects: A weapon that can destroy worlds and a mole in the MIB. Both of these are central to the plot so we will not reveal them except to point out that betrayal is often complex and weapons are often necessary. Both of these truths in real life are far more difficult to solve than our simplistic thinking implies. It is here that Sci-Fi and Fantasy help us explore our common experience, focusing on both our fears and our hopes.
The fact that there are people in the real world who give up their lives to keep everyone else safe is a sober thought. It also requires us to consider what we would do for others? Would we lay down our lives for others? And similarly, are we filled with gratitude toward those who do? There is also the haunting question of at what cost do we create weapons of mass destruction if there are no “aliens” from space threatening us? Do we then use such weapons on those who are simply alien to us but are in fact fellow humans?
It is these moral question cause this simple fantasy tale to have meaning for all of us.
In the first MIB the aliens from other planets where kept on the island of Manhattan. In this new “international” story MIB is needed everywhere. Do you find this a helpful or harmful turn in the tale?
The humor of this film rests primarily on the humor of the first film. Do you think that is because it lacks imagination? Why do you answer as you do?
When Judas betrayed Jesus he did so from within in the twelve apostles and of his own free will, though some say he was possessed. Here Agent High T seems to be possessed by a creature of the Hive when he betrays MIB and the human world. Do you think that all betrayal is a form of possession – whether by ambition, or anger, or vengeance or evil or aliens? Why do you answer as you do?