‘Men in Black: International’ review: Enjoy the fun while it lasts

Like its title suggests, Men In Black: International offers plenty of globe-trotting and standard action set pieces to distract you from its bland and confusing plot.

Thanks to Thor: Ragnarok, MIB: International already has one asset under its belt: the charming chemistry of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. In here, Hemsworth continues to win you over with his dashing looks and silly antics, while Thompson balances their dynamic with her poised and confident composure. While the new leads don’t necessarily match the perfect combination of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, they’re sufficient to carry the weight of this film, even if the material lets them down. The script bears some moments of breezy humor and satire (which Taika Waititi so generously offers in Ragnarok), but more often than not, the dialogue comes out generic and forced that it would only elicit pity laughs from the kindest viewers.

The one move that MIB: International does to revamp the franchise for this feminist era is introducing its first female lead. As a young girl, Molly (Thompson) wasn’t “neuralyzed” (i.e. have someone’s short-term memory be erased) by the MIB after witnessing a supernatural sighting. Since then, she makes it her life mission to be a part of the clandestine organization, and twenty years later, she finally tracks down their headquarters and gets recruited in the process. What becomes the running joke here is rookie agent M (Molly) continually upstaging his senior, Agent H (Hemsworth). There’s much discussion of how Agent H is no longer the skilled agent he once was, but not much history is shown on screen to actually see the difference. As far as we’re concerned, H mostly uses his charm to wriggle his way out of a sticky situation, while M is the more level headed one with reliable methods. Each has their own way of getting the job done.

Agent M (Tessa Thompson) and Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) test drive an overpowered blaster.

The two take on a high stakes mission to prevent alien malevolent forces from getting their hands on an intergalactic weapon. By doing so, the film detours from the crowded markets and remote desert of Morocco, to the exotic castles in Italy. With all the globe-trotting involved, the plot starts to feel like it’s a rip-off from the James Bond franchise, except the film fails to mine the maximum tension needed. For one, this spin-off features a personality-free villain called The Twins (played by dancers Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) – a shape-shifting celestial duo that pretty much resembles the invasive space dust in Dark Phoenix. In one scene, M and H bring out various big guns to shoot these creatures to no avail. For a blockbuster director, F. Gary Gray has shown more creative sequences in his previous work in The Fate of the Furious or The Italian Job. MIB: International, on the other hand, is filled with loud laser shootouts and mandatory car chases, all of which go against the idea of the MIB remaining anonymous to the public.

It goes without saying that the true appeal of this secret organization works best when the story is focused within a single environment, to show how extraterrestrial activities (and the covering of such) hide in plain sight. This world-building is demonstrated when H and M make their way down to an alien night club via a hidden tunnel located inside a taxi. Or that part where the film introduces its funnier creation – an anthropomorphic chess piece named Pawny (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) who happens to be a pocketful of sunshine and sarcasm. These small moments, not the uninspired action sequences, is what brings the magic of the original. Only if the film sustains them throughout.

Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani) pledges allegiance to Agent M.

MIB: International really should have worked as a simple plot but its strange narrative decisions make it look unnecessarily confusing. The ending feels rushed as not much time is given to build the emotional core found in the supposed father-son relationship of Agent H and his mentor, High T (Liam Neeson). The thing is, this film is under the false pretense that ‘bigger equals better’ hence its priority to showcase bland spectacles and its apparent lack of a much more ambitious goal, say injecting an insight or two about the current political or environmental landscape.

The basic ingredients for your summer blockbuster are found here but what really leaves the impression is Hemsworth and Thompson’s charismatic buddy comedy act that reminds us of the franchise’s infinite (yet squandered) potential. You can enjoy the fun while it lasts for I can guarantee you that it’s quite forgettable. No neuralyzers needed.

3 out of 5 stars
Directed by F. Gary Gray, written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, ‘Men in Black: International‘ stars Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Liam Neeson, Rafe Spall, Rebecca Ferguson, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois, Emma Thompson and Tim Blaney. 115 minutes. PG-13.

Liam Neeson takes on enemies of the planet in ‘Men in Black: International’

Liam Neeson’s larger-than-life screen presence, honed as an action hero in the Taken films, as well as his unheralded facility for comedy, came in handy for his portrayal of High T in Columbia Pictures’ new action-adventure Men in Black: International.

In the film, the newly minted Agent M (Tessa Thompson) is assigned to work in MIB London, under the paternal command of High T (Neeson), where she’ll join the near-mythic Agent H (Chris Hemsorth) in pursuit of a powerful mole inside the MIB organization.

High T ascended to the position of the head of the London branch after teaming with H years earlier to rescue the Earth from an alien threat. Now, High T is preparing to retire, but before he does he must oversee the efforts to bring the planet-threatening infiltrator to justice.

“We had already cast Chris Hemsworth, who’s pretty imposing looking, so we were looking for an actor who could match that,” remembers executive producer E. Bennett Walsh. “Audiences are going to understand and enjoy that pairing right away.”

Pointing to Neeson’s less-known qualities, producer Walter E. Parkes adds that, “Much like with Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K in the original MIB films, we wanted to cast actors who could do comedy, as opposed to casting comic actors. Liam is a consummate actor with big comedy chops.”

Hemsworth appreciated what Neeson brought to the dynamic between H and High T. “High T is the father figure H never had, so they have a very close bond. Liam made sure that the father-son relationship and mentorship was clear. It’s at the heart of the film.”

Liam Neeson has appeared in over 70 films, including Schindler’s List, the blockbuster Taken trilogy, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Batman Begins, Love Actually and Gangs of New York. Over the course of his career, Neeson’s films have grossed over $7 billion worldwide.

He is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and a proud father of two sons.

In Philippine cinemas June 12, Men in Black: International is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International. #MIBInternational

About Men in Black: International

The Men in Black have expanded to cover the globe, but so have the scum of the universe. And to keep us safe, decorated Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) and determined rookie M (Tessa Thompson) are partnered – an unlikely pairing that just might work. As they face a new alien threat that can take the form of anyone, including MIB agents, they must join forces on a globetrotting adventure to save the agency and ultimately the world.

Building upon the idea that there are aliens from other worlds living among us, MIB: International introduces new agents, weapons, aliens and locations, while bringing together some of today’s most in-demand and talented actors, including Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson as the titular heroes, Agents H and M, with Emma Thompson reprising her role as the head of MIB, and Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Nanjiani also taking on key roles.

Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald return as the franchise’s “guardians,” having produced all four films, starting with 1997’s Men in Black, and have brought on board director F. Gary Gray, whose work encompasses epic action and thrills (The Fate of the Furious), raucous comedy (Friday) and galvanizing drama (Straight Outta Compton) to bring scale, laughs and a unique vision to the sequel.  

‘Cold Pursuit’ review: Eccentric examination on revenge cycle

Taking cues from Fargo series and a Quentin Tarantino-inspired direction, ‘Cold Pursuit‘ might be the strangest action film in Liam Neeson’s repertoire.

Debuting ten years ago is the vigilante action flick Taken, arguably the first film to discover Liam Neeson’s ‘particular set of skills’ to be the next badass hero. Since then, the actor has been a commodity in rinse-and-repeat guilty pleasures—apart from the two sequels that followed, one can point out that The Grey, Non-Stop and The Commuter, regardless of how different their procedural setups might be, are essentially follow-ups to Taken’s commercial success. Neeson’s latest, Cold Pursuit, has no pretension of breaking away from that ‘mad dad vengeance’ formula. A law-abiding family man, Nels Coxman (Neeson), turns into a killing machine after his son dies in a staged drug overdose. What follows is pretty standard: Neeson serves his brand of bloody and brass-knuckled justice, leaving a trail of bodies behind. Who gets tired of this act? Action aficionados certainly don’t.

But then Cold Pursuit suddenly tweaks your funny bone and before you know it, we already crossed a goofy territory: surprise, this is a dark comedy! Make no mistake, the script is far from one, but Peter Molland’s visual and editing choices draw absurd delight from the blood lust at play. As the character death escalates, each demise is commemorated by slapping on screen their fancy nicknames along with a cross symbol. Could it be an ode to all the nameless henchmen that most thrillers take for granted? Nope, this is definitely a running joke. By the time the film reaches to a gory conclusion, several names are plastered on screen and I couldn’t help but to laugh out loud.

Liam Neeson in ‘Cold Pursuit’

It’s hard not to admire the film’s visceral cinematography, the fine performances from Neeson and the supporting cast, and even the funny one-liners. The film moves from one crazy scenario to the next, and the sooner you give into its silliness, the better it will be. Coxman uses a snowplow truck as a weapon for mass destruction, and elsewhere, a group of ruthless assassins throw snowballs at each other and giggle like kids. Odd as it may seem, the grisly violence and comic elements mesh together.

Neeson is as earnest as ever: Coxman is a quiet, gloomy man who has learned how to kill and cover his tracks from “reading a crime novel,” while Tom Bateman as the hair-trigger psycho villain Viking, chews the scenery with a heightened sense of gleeful wickedness. The latter borders at a campy level, but considering that the film operates in the director’s twisted sense of humor, it works.

Tom Bateman (Trevor “Viking” Calcote) and Liam Neeson (Nelson “Nels” Coxman)

Plowing through its thick ice of bleak humor, Cold Pursuit unexpectedly feels introspective; it’s an eccentric examination on the cycle of revenge that all starts from one character. While it can be amusing to watch Neeson dispatch bad guys in a ludicrous fashion for two hours, that can get repetitive. So as a defense mechanism, director Molland sprawls the plot outwards to include more characters who’ll do the killing. As Coxman’s suspicions are confirmed (his son is indeed murdered by a gang of drug dealers), he stops at nothing to exact his vengeance. By doing so, he inadvertently sets off a turf war between Viking’s troop and their rival Native American gang headed by White Bull (Tom Jackson). The film shows that vengeance has a powerful ripple effect: one man’s revenge gets blown out of proportion throughout the town. A leader’s son gets killed, and once the phrase “a son for a son” gets mentioned, you know it only goes downhill from there.

Liam Neeson and Tom Jackson (White Bull)

Neeson fans will definitely find amusement here so long as they’re not appalled by the film’s drastic tonal shift to comedy. However, those who are leaning towards more bombastic action setpieces, this film can feel underwhelming. There’s not much elaborate fight choreography and ambitious use of firepower—the brutality here is much grounded on reality.

Cold Pursuit gets unfocused along the way with all the loose subplots involved. It does not always hit its mark as a black comedy save for the most part. The film indulges on its curiosity to explore the thoughts and intentions of the characters surrounding the plot before bringing them together to an eventual carnage-filled third act. It’s almost a satirical take on revenge films—a proof that with the right amount of macabre humor, one can make an above-average revenge thriller.

3.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Hans Petter Moland and written by Frank Baldwin, ‘Cold Pursuit‘ stars Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emmy Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi, Julia Jones, John Doman, and Laura Dern. Based on the 2014 Norwegian film, ‘In Order of Disappearance.’ Run time: 118 minutes.

Liam Neeson takes on a vengeance spree in ‘Cold Pursuit’

Vengeance knows no boundaries, Liam Neeson’s latest action thriller “Cold Pursuit” bleeds the drug cartel dry as the man known with a unique set of skills takes on the role of Nels Coxman, a snowplough driver whose only son was murdered by a powerful drug cartel in their town.

This twisted revenge story swirls around Neeson’s Nels Coxman, a snowplough driver in the Colorado ski resort of Kehoe. Just named Citizen of the Year for his services in keeping the roads open to the remote town, Coxman’s life swiftly spirals into amateur retribution and an escalating pile of corpses when his son (played by Micheál Richardson) is mistakenly killed by local gangsters over a stash of missing drugs. All he knows about killing people is what he read in a crime novel, but Coxman sets off with a sawn-off hunting rifle, and unwittingly begins a chain of events that will include a snowbound turf war, kidnapping, two rival crime lords and a host of hoodlums with colourful nicknames like Maverick, Mustang, and Smoke.

“A whole can of worms.” That’s how Liam Neeson describes what his character opens in Hans Petter Moland’s blisteringly violent and bitingly hilarious COLD PURSUIT. “My character goes out on a path of vengeance, but doesn’t realise what he’s getting himself into,” says Neeson. “He thinks he’s going after one guy who killed his son. In actual fact, it all escalates into a whirlwind of vengeance and violence. And it all has this grain of dark humour running through it, if you can imagine that!”

There aren’t many actors whose CV include everything from an Oscar-nominated turn in

“Schindler’s List” to a Jedi, a Batman villain, a shady cop made out of Lego and a talking Lion. But then, Liam Neeson isn’t like many other actors.  With an astonishing 126 credits to his name, the 66-year-old famously saw himself unwittingly reinvented as an action star a decade ago, with his starring role as Bryan Mills in the huge global smash that was TAKEN. But while that movie’s plot, of a father out for revenge against the men who have put his offspring in danger, may sound like it shares some DNA with that of Cold Pursuit, the latter sees him deliver a performance unlike any in his already storied career.

“On the one level, Cold Pursuit is a great, classic revenge thriller,” says Neeson. “But what was really appealing to me was the dark undercurrent of humour that runs through it.” Or, as his director, Hans Petter Moland puts it: “Basically, this is Liam Neeson like you’ve never seen him before. It’s a very special, unique performance.”

Liam Neeson’s vengeance fuels hard-pounding action in ‘Cold Pursuit’

Blood in the snow will flow in Liam Neeson’s (known for the highly successful Taken franchise) latest thrilling action film “Cold Pursuit” where he plays Nes Coxman, a snowplough driver  in  Kehoe, a 10 degrees and counting glitzy ski resort in the Rocky Mountains.

Liam Neeson is no stranger to reinvention. But even by his standards, “Cold Pursuit” represents a surprising gear-shift into wicked new territory.  The movie sets the local police in action at the same time who are not used to much action until the son of unassuming town snowplough driver, Nels Coxman is murdered at the order of Viking (Tom Bateman), a flamboyant drug lord. Enraged and armed with heavy machinery, Nels sets out to dismantle the cartel one man at a time, but his understanding of murder comes mainly from what he read in a crime novel. As the bodies pile up, his actions ignite a turf war between Viking and his long-standing rival White Bull (Tom Jackson), a soulful Native-American mafia boss, that will quickly escalate and turn the small town’s bright white slopes blood-red.

There aren’t many actors whose CV include everything from an Oscar-nominated turn in Schindler’s List to a Jedi, a Batman villain, a shady cop made out of Lego and a talking Lion. But then, Liam Neeson isn’t like many other actors.  With an astonishing 126 credits to his name, the 66-year-old famously saw himself unwittingly reinvented as an action star a decade ago, with his starring role as Bryan Mills in the huge global smash that was TAKEN. But while that movie’s plot, of a father out for revenge against the men who have put his offspring in danger, may sound like it shares some DNA with that of Cold Pursuit, the latter sees him deliver a performance unlike any in his already storied career.

“On the one level, Cold Pursuit is a great, classic revenge thriller,” says Neeson. “But what was really appealing to me was the dark undercurrent of humour that runs through it.” Or, as his director, Hans Petter Moland puts it: “Basically, this is Liam Neeson like you’ve never seen him before. It’s a very special, unique performance.” 

Catch “Cold Pursuit” when it opens in cinemas on February 13 nationwide from Axinite Digicinema.

Liam Neeson voices monster in adaptation of children’s novel ‘A Monster Calls’

Liam Neeson, widely known for his role as Bryan Mills in the worldwide blockbuster “Taken” film franchise, will once again surprise the audience with his newfound skills in his latest film “A Monster Calls.”

Based on the award-winning novel of the same title by Patrick Ness, “A Monster Calls” is directed by highly celebrated director J.A. Bayona wherein Neeson stars in the titular role. As the monster, Neeson’s character is seen by 12-year-old Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who escapes into a fantastical world of monsters and fairy tales. Dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness has necessitated Conor’s spending time with his less-than-sympathetic grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). His daily existence at his U.K. school is one of academic disinterest and bullying by classmates. As Conor’s father (Toby Kebbell) has resettled thousands of miles away in the U.S., the boy yearns for guidance.

Connor unexpectedly summons a most unlikely ally, who bursts forth with terrifying grandeur from an ancient towering yew tree and the powerful earth below it: a 40-foot-high colossus of a creature. Portrayed in performance-capture and voiceover by Neeson, the monster appears at Conor’s bedroom window at the strike of 12:07 one night – and at the same time on nights thereafter. The Monster has stories to tell, and he insists that Conor hear them and powerfully visualize them. Conor’s fear gives way to feistiness and then to looking within; for, The Monster demands that once the tales are told it will be time for Conor to tell his own story in return. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth.

Director J.A. Bayona and Liam Neeson in A MONSTER CALLS.
Director J.A. Bayona and Liam Neeson in A MONSTER CALLS.

As an actor utterly distinct in personality, voice, and stature, Liam Neeson was everyone’s first choice to portray the Monster, in both voiceover and performance-capture. The Academy Award-nominated actor was drawn to the story immediately, seeing it as “a fable about the complexity of our emotions, and navigating that complexity as we grow up.”

“Bayona is a real cinema talent,” states Liam Neeson. “Occasionally you get to work with directors who are steeped in the love of what they do, and Bayona is one of those. He eats, sleeps, and drinks movies. He’s a walking film encyclopedia. He’s a bit like Martin Scorsese in that way. He’s also very sensitive. He takes care of, guides, and nurtures his actors and that’s what I always hope a director will do. He allows you to experiment, so you both can get at the truth of what a scene is – and he will try for as long as it takes. I love working with a director like that.”

As part of Bayona’s approach, Neeson worked alongside Lewis MacDougall so that both actors could share ownership of their scenes together. Neeson reflects, “I’ve worked with children who’ve been swamped by the industry, and they’ve lost a kind of childlike innocence. Lewis has all that intact. He’s still a real kid – but also a powerful young actor.”

“A Monster Calls” is a visually spectacular and stunning adventure that will open in cinemas on November 2, 2016 from Pioneer Films.