Nod Ya Head (to wake yourself up)
To the cynics who say Hollywood’s given up on the movies, regurgitating the high concept crud from a generation ago, while TV shames the industry week on week, casually dropping artful series like Chernobyl and When They See Us that appropriate the storytelling craft and moral seriousness of ‘70’s American cinema and would, had they theatrical releases, have scooped multiple Oscars, while actual screens are saturated with infantile CG fests held together with boilerplate plots, stick figures, and hack work; these boring, irrelevant confections, produced at exorbitant cost, failing to make the case for either themselves or the experience they now represent – I give you Men in Black International: Hollywood’s denial.
It’s not much of a denial, because this soft reboot of the series, that’s so tired and old hat that even stars once desperate for a nostalgia-driven hit like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones won’t participate, is the quintessence of redundant product – a movie so utterly lifeless and irrelevant that you sit through it in a state of waking coma. It’s like a visual aid designed to induce a meditative state; a film that acts like the iconic neuralyzer it so often whips out. You leave the cinema unable to remember a thing.
Had you been awake you’d have seen Tessa Thompson’s character encounter an alien as a child then spend her adult life trying to find the agency that wiped her parents’ memories of the incident. You might have been fooled into thinking this was an intriguing new way into the franchise – a member of the public monitoring the MIB by stealth and infiltrating their operation, but actually it’s just a means to invert the old recruitment narrative of the original movie, albeit with an identical end point.
Then there’s Chris Hunksworth’s more experienced agent, who Thompson’s partnered with. In a flip on Tommy Lee Jones’ weary mentor figure, he’s a former star performer – the MIB’s 007, who’s mysteriously gone off the boil, though we don’t see enough of him at his peak to register any kind of contrast. Instead we’re asked to believe that his laid-back, sub-Thor schtick, which barely registers as a performance at all, marks him out as suspect. We hope this will lead to an upending of the classic buddy formula, with one of the heroes proving to be corrupt – a risk in storytelling terms that might take the movie in an interesting direction, but instead it leads to nothing except a heavily signposted bit of bait and switch – a twist you’d have seen an hour earlier had you been able to concentrate.
Barry Sonnenfeld, a stylist, kept these movies trim and outlandish when he was at the helm, but his successor, F. Gary Gray, occasionally trying to ape said style, has none of the original director’s discipline or knack for teasing out a comic performance. Instead we get a few scenes and motifs inspired by the Indiana Jones movies, without any of the tension or excitement those superior summer movies used to generate. Add some tacked-on identity politics and bone-dry animatic setpieces and you have the ultimate summer dud – a movie that’s second rate to older audiences and dead on arrival for their kids.
Everyone’s dressed for a funeral and that’s the right look because if we keep getting movies like this one we’ll be putting the cinematic experience in the ground. Who’s gonna save us from that?