“You know what the difference is between you and me? I make this look gooooood.” And with that classic line, Will Smith put on his Ray-Ban shades and completed his smooth secret agent look in the super-sharp Men in Black. Wanna know what the difference is between the 1997 sci-fi comedy blockbuster and Men in Black: International? It doesn’t even orbit the same galaxy as good. Like many movies this summer, this spin-off — starring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson — is serviceable and instantly disposable. See it, and a few hours later, you’ll feel like you were neuralized and forget the whole thing. Here’s why it doesn’t compare to the original, sport.
Reason No. 1: The partners can zap, but they have no zip
It’s baffling. Hemsworth and Thompson made for delightfully zany comedy foils in Thor: Rangarok and in Avengers: End Game. Yet they can’t retain the same magic as partners in the London bureau of the secret Men in Black organization. Hemsworth plays H, the dashing officer that befriends and captures the evil aliens hiding in plain sight; Thompson is M, the wide-eyed, eager-to-please rookie. They look damn suave in their suits. That’s not enough. Whereas the crabby Tommy Lee Jones mocked his young partner with a dry wit, this duo is saddled with limp dialogue as H lectures M about making time for romance while M makes eyes at him in return. This is supposed to be considered flirting.
Reason No. 2: No human or alien can make sense of this story
Even if you haven’t caught Men in Black since the last millennium, you probably recall that Agents J and K tried to hunt down an evil E.T. disguised as a human and had an intergalactic showdown with him in New York City. Easy. Done. I scribbled the following notes about Men in Black: International’s plot: “Jababy royal lizard. Vungus and Draco. They need a weapon to protect the Hive?” And this is before Hemsworth and Thompson end up stranded in a desert in Marrakesh for reasons that escape me. Popcorn movies aren’t supposed to require this much brainpower. Keep it simple and lay off the convoluted jibber-jabber.
Reason No. 3: Bigger isn’t better
Spoiler: Men in Black: International features special effects galore. Explosions. Electric-blue gravity-defying force fields. Aliens that looks like giant Furbies. These kind of post-production touches were considered truly special and cool in 1997; they’re now de rigueur in 2019. Director F. Gary Gray should have instead aimed smaller and not tried to batter audiences into exhausting green-screen submission. In fact, the most amusing effect is courtesy of a Medusa-like alien seductress (Rebecca Ferguson) that has arms to spare. Plus, her make-up is out of this world.
Reason No. 4: The jokes are . . . a joke
A key component of Men in Black’s universal appeal back in the day was a sense of humor that managed to be both acerbic (yay Jones) and brash (yay Smith). Men in Black: International never finds its funny bone. Oh, sure, there are inevitable asides about celebrities masquerading as aliens — we knew it all along, Ariana Grande and Kanye West! But most of the punchlines are lazy and stale. Did you know Hemsworth is a handsome dude? If not, rest assured there are seven references to his beefcake looks. You know the comedy situation is dire when a line about the 15-year-old The Notebook gets the heartiest laugh. By the way, it’s Emma Thompson (as a curt supervisor) who delivers the most pointed joke of the film, which is in regards to the rather-sexist Men in Black title. She then promptly disappears from the screen.
Reason No. 5: No catchy theme song!
Sing it: Here come the Men in Black . . . Galaxy defenders! The onetime Fresh Prince showed his versatility by rapping the zippy hit “Men in Black” (which sampled a 1982 R&B song called “Forget Me Nots.”) and dancing in character in the music video. During Men in Black: International’s most tedious moments, I still sat in rapt anticipation of a Smith re-mix playing over the end credits. Didn’t happen. Is it too late to wish for his Aladdin genie to give this movie a do-over?
Men in Black: International opens in theaters on Friday, June 14