‘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.

Tessa Thompson plays beautiful music with ‘Creed’ hero

Despite taking place in the male-dominated world of boxing, Warner Bros. Pictures’ Creed isn’t strictly about the guys. Just as Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) found love with wife Adrian, titular character Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is finding something like it with his neighbor, Bianca.

Fast-rising actress Tessa Thompson (“Selma”) plays Bianca, a local singer-songwriter who becomes involved with Adonis.

“We knew we needed a strong female character,” screenwriter Aaron Covington says, “because everybody knows Adrian. When you think of Rocky, you can’t help but think of her. Like Rocky, Adonis needed a counterbalance for all his aggression, somebody to bring him back to Earth.”

The role of the singer/songwriter, which required the actress playing her to also perform, proved a difficult one to cast, but ultimately went to Tessa Thompson. Director Ryan Coogler expounds, “We needed somebody to hold her own with Sly and Mike, and who was really a musician, who could perform and record the music Bianca makes. And as soon as Tessa was cast, she immediately got to work with our composer, Ludwig Goransson, and started making songs that we needed to use in the movie. And she was just perfect, absolutely incredible.”

“When I first heard about this project, all I knew was that it was Ryan Coogler’s next movie,” Thompson relates. “I was so enamored with his other work, and by him as a person, that I really wanted to be in the movie before I even knew if there was anything in it for me. Then when I read the script, I discovered this wonderful story of finding family in unexpected places, which is something I think people can relate to. In fact, what I’ve always thought to be so special about the ‘Rocky’ movies is that they’re not really about boxing; they’re about love, about self-belief, endurance, perseverance, following your dreams. Those are things I think everybody can get behind, whether you watch boxing or not.”

Like Adonis, Bianca is also following her dreams. “In both Adonis and Bianca, you see two people who really like each other, but who are trying to figure out their own paths, and the dedication that takes,” Thompson says. “Bianca is a Philly-based singer in a town with a great musical history, so I worked with Ryan to find Bianca’s artistic influences and to get an idea of what her sound would be. I spent some time in the city with local musicians. There’s a great camaraderie there and it was a lot of fun. And getting to play opposite Mike wasn’t too shabby, either.”

Jordan grins. “Tessa’s awesome. A joy to work with—honestly, it didn’t feel like work, which is always a good sign you’re doing something real. Bianca is a very strong, independent woman with her own goals, her own morals. She’s a North Philly girl who’s used to being very up-front, very blunt. Adonis is caught off guard by her and he likes that.”

“In the film, even though she’s young, Bianca represents a self-assuredness and honesty and acceptance that Adonis gravitates to,” Coogler explains. “She knows who she is, what she wants and where she’s going. All things he’s trying to achieve for himself.”

“Creed” explores a new chapter in the “Rocky” story and stars Academy Award nominee Sylvester Stallone in his iconic role. The film also reunites director Ryan Coogler with his “Fruitvale Station” star Michael B. Jordan as the son of Apollo Creed.

In the film, Adonis Johnson (Jordan) never knew his famous father, world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. Still, there’s no denying that boxing is in his blood, so Adonis heads to Philadelphia, the site of Apollo Creed’s legendary match with a tough upstart named Rocky Balboa.

Once in the City of Brotherly Love, Adonis tracks Rocky (Stallone) down and asks him to be his trainer. Despite his insistence that he is out of the fight game for good, Rocky sees in Adonis the strength and determination he had known in Apollo—the fierce rival who became his closest friend. Agreeing to take him on, Rocky trains the young fighter, even as the former champ is battling an opponent more deadly than any he faced in the ring.

With Rocky in his corner, it isn’t long before Adonis gets his own shot at the title…but can he develop not only the drive but also the heart of a true fighter, in time to get into the ring?

Opening across the Philippines on December 9, 2015, Creed is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

— PRESS STATEMENT FROM WARNER BROS. PICTURES