Pawny the alien is the real star of “Men in Black: International”

“International” is the original “Men in Black” only with European backdrops, more aliens and less sexism. That’s right, someone even mentions “Women in Black,” bringing the franchise all the way into 2019. At least in concept.

A little green guy name Pawny—an alien chess piece voice by comedian Kumail Nanjiani. It gets most of the very few laughs there are to find in Men In Black: International.

For example, when encountering a particularly cool car (a Lexus), Pawny says, “That’s what I’m talking about!”. It’s the kind of exclamation. That would have been made with rakish swagger by Will Smith in any of the previous movies in the series. Which began life twenty-two years ago with director Barry Sonnenfeld’s mildly subversive sci-fi comedy. One that served as ideal showcase for Smith and his stone-faced partner, Tommy Lee Jones.

That today we are forcedto rely on the Great Gazoo—or at least a close cousin. That to inject even a modicum of humor and excitement into the proceedings is a sign of just how empty a vessel this franchise has become. We made it through ten seasons of The Flintstones before Harvey Korman’s virescent intergalactic wisecracker made his debut. And this is only the fourth Men in Black movie. Has it really come to this?

Certainly, Pawny is mildly cute and, wielding a tiny sword. That looks like it might struggle to mince garlic, mostly harmless.

Those are also the nicest things you can say about the movie he is in. A largely toothless and wit-free reboot that empties the last of the originality and vivacity. That has been steadily leaking out of the franchise with each subsequent installment.

The main issue is the script. The tale it tells is shopworn: MiB stan Molly/Agent M (Tessa Thompson) becomes an agent after sneaking into MiB’s headquarters (imagine if the Secret Service worked that way). And is assign to the London branch, where a high-ranking officer may be a double agent working on behalf of Earth’s destruction. She partners with Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), a Lothario who is coasting on his laurels and finds her enthusiasm exhausting.

Their obstacles include psychotic shape shifting alien hitmen (enough already!) play by French dancers and clothing designers Les Twins in their film debut. A ruthless three-armed arms dealer (Swedish actor Rebecca Ferguson from 2018’s Mission: Impossible-Fallout) and an obnoxiously officious fellow agent (Rafe Spall). The twins fare best, only because they have the fewest lines, and the dialogue throughout the film is consistently clumsy and leaden no matter who is forced to speak it.

What the creators of this iteration seem to have forgotten is that original’s strength lay in the fact that it (like its suits) seem perfectly tailored to fit its stars’ talents.

Here, you could plug and play any two young actors into the lead roles and come up with the same result. The two MCU vets struggle to do their best with criminally underwritten characters. While Thompson manages to make Molly’s ambition and book smarts playful and appealing. It is difficult to distinguish between Agent H’s insouciance and Hemsworth’s lack of engagement with the material he has been given.

“MIB: International” features a hotshot rookie determining to, if not save the world, at least prove herself to the experienced agent who takes her under his wing. If that sounds familiar, except for the female pronoun. It should since it’s the basis of 1997’s “Men In Black” with Will Smith as the hotshot rookie and Tommy Lee Jones as the veteran agent.

For the unfamiliar, the Men in Black are in charge of monitoring all aliens who visit, or move to, Earth, using lethal force when necessary to keep the peace.

Tessa Thompson is Agent M, whose childhood encounter with an alien reveal to her the existence of the MIB and. Eventually, her infiltration of headquarters. Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”) is the wisecracking and quickly tiresome Agent H, a role that will make you long for Jones’ straight-laced Agent K.

Thanks to what seems to be comprehensive alien-immigration reform, the Earth is one big Star Wars cantina.

Not only have extraterrestrials successfully assimilat as earthlings, they have their own clubs. Their own technology and even their own subway system in which trains travel through rat-free hyperspace tunnels. Separate and totally unequal.

The plot revolves around a superweapon successfully smuggl onto Earth and sought by the Hive, the universe’s most lethal species bent on conquering galaxies one by one. Agents H and M (the clothing store, get it?) first stumble across it and then are charged with safeguarding it by the unfortunately named High T (Liam Neeson with hair set to dark and lush).

H and M are relentlessly pursued by two indestructible aliens who can turn solids into liquids, a power resulting in some of the film’s best special effects.

A subplot involving a mole within the MIB organization is figured out within seconds after it’s revealed.

As with the original MIB, a parade of strange aliens parade across the screen with a shout-out to a few originals (here’s to you, Frank the Pug and the high-pitched worms). Not all of them work, like the living beard and the pair of men’s dress shoes (at least they’ve evolved past mandals), though they dress up things nicely.

But a callback to seemingly ordinary celebrities who are actually aliens comes off more as intellectual theft than a homage. And that’s one of the biggest problems with the movie.

Originality in MIB is MIA. “International” doesn’t take the Men in Black anywhere they haven’t been before.

Thankfully there is one gem in the intergalactic rough, a character that deserves his own spinoff. Kumail Nanjiani voices Pawny, who looks to be a native of the planet Chess. With dry humor and quick wit, the few-inch-tall animated game piece breathes life into the proceedings but is not on screen nearly enough to save the film.

INFO:

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material)
Genre: Action & Adventure, Comedy, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By: F. Gary Gray
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani
Written By: Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
In Theaters: Jun 14, 2019 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Aug 20, 2019
Runtime: 120 minutes
Studio: Columbia Pictures

Amy Nicholson
This is just a good, quality, second base summer blockbuster.. Very big, bold, and funny.

Matthew Norman
Tessa Thompson carries it to the best of her mighty abilities but it’s a pulverising load to bear.

James Berardinelli
Whoever spearheaded this halfhearted resurrection should be fitted with a golden parachute.

Amanda Greever
It’s not a great film, and it’s not even what I would consider to be a ‘good’ one. But, it’s not meant to be. It’s a fun romp through the galaxy, and Hemsworth and Thompson play off of each other beautifully.

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