Cinematic Releases: Back in Black: Men In Black International (2019) - Reviewed

The Men in Black series, with now four entries spanning an over twenty year period, has almost more than outstayed its welcome in the blockbuster franchise lineup. Men in Black 3 provided a tender and fun closure to the unconventional trilogy back in 2012 with Barry Sonnenfeld's arc between Agents J and K finding a sort of honorific balance between preserving the past and looking forward into an uncertain future, but I don't feel like there ever really was a public hunger for another entry or even a soft reboot of the series.

Originally starting out life as a strange yet fascinating hybrid between the Men in Black series and 21 Jump Street of all things before spinning off into its own all-out sequel/reboot, International tries to take everything you love and know about the franchise and breathe new life into it with its promising pair of leads, whose chemistry on the excellent Thor Ragnarok no doubt had a hand in their selection for appearing in this new iteration. Unfortunately, that robust chemistry doesn't quite have the same effect here, but it's certainly not for a lack of trying. No, International's key flaw is that it tries to emulate the formula from the first two Men in Black films (even down to having nearly the same plot devices) without really adding much new aside from an occasionally annoying tiny animated Kumail Nanjiani.

Watching films with my father can be a joy and an aggravation at the same time. Take, for instance, when I watched Kong: Skull Island with him yesterday (both of us watching it for the first time). We were both able to equally and avidly appreciate the stellar soundtrack featuring classic early 70's rock songs and tremendous orchestration that does a perfect emulation of the theme songs of classic monster flicks from the 1930's, and lauded in each other's admiration of the stellar cinematography that was on display from time to time. It was a really great experience for me, and likely one that really amplified my appreciation of the experience as a whole. On the other hand, sometimes he can be too smart when watching films and lets me know immediately each and every time he has the plot figured out before we're even halfway through. He figured out International in near record time, and the more I thought about his hypothesis as the story kept on, the more I realized that more and more modern blockbusters are starting to become predictable again in trying to produce an illusion of unpredictability.

There's no real solution that could be offered to this problem (aside from just to stop watching movies with my dad altogether), but does that really pose a threat to cinema? International, for what it's worth, really does its job well at providing an ample piece of nearly two hour entertainment that no doubt many people who appreciate the franchise for its thrills will be more than happy to revisit time and time again. F. Gary Gray's reboot offers a slew of fresh new faces from Hemsworth and Liam Neeson to Tessa and Emma Thompson; in addition to throwing out a few welcome familiar faces who make brief but very welcome appearances.

It might be a long shot with its less than exuberant box office and critical reception, but I wouldn't mind seeing another one of these. The days of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones may be behind us, but there could be great potential in taking this franchise into another direction, at least with Tessa Thompson in the lead. It's not as bad as Men in Black II- it at least tries to break free from the series' unwittingly set-up plot formula with a few diversions and some new famous faces on the forefront. As it is, I could take it or leave it when asked about another sequel, but to be honest I'm not completely sure if audiences and critics will really want to see them taking the screen again for another summer- despite its entertainment value, it's sadly seemed to be falling to the wayside with several other failing sequels this summer that are proving that audiences are more than eager for something all-new and original. Or just another Avengers film. Either one seems just as likely.

-Wes Ball