‘Men in Black’ is back, but to decidedly mixed results

Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth star in “Men in Black: International”

If there’s one lesson Hollywood never has seemed to learn, it’s to quit while it’s ahead.

The “Men in Black” concept yielded three movie blockbusters, and seven years after the last of those, its studio has gone back to the well to try to redevelop the series without most of the original team (Mistake One, usually) that included stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld.

“Men in Black: International” has the requisite aliens and people in cool business suits saying cool things, but in trying to emulate what the earlier trilogy seemed to achieve so effortlessly – though the bountiful special effects obviously take a lot of effort – the latest chapter simply tries too hard. And it very notably lacks Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones, whose ideal teamwork was a huge factor in the first three pictures being such giant hits.

Instead of them, we now get Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson (reunited from “Thor: Ragnarok”) as ultra-secret government agents and new partners who have to stop a global threat from aliens, the same sort of case their movie predecessors had. The more immediate peril facing the duo is a pair of twins who can change their images at will, giving the good guys all sorts of headaches.

Thompson, who also was the love interest in the “Creed” movies, fares rather nicely with what is the more original of the central roles. Hemsworth’s duty is to play Mr. Irresistible, or an agent who generally skates by on sheer charm – and most of his colleagues know it, so his comeuppance here entertains them while it rattles him. It’s pretty much a one-note part for Hemsworth, though, something ordinary in a story that relies heavily on the extraordinary.

F. Gary Gray is a solid action director, and his films (“The Negotiator,” “Law Abiding Citizen,” etc.) often have allowed for solid character development, too. However, his duty on “Men in Black: International” largely is engineered to hit notes similar to those that have entertained the series’ fans before. Within that spectrum, former “Love Actually” scene-sharers Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson are welcome presences here as superiors of the Men (and Woman) in Black.

Overall, though, “Men in Black: International” doesn’t have enough that’s unique to make it a lock to restart the franchise. It’s an energetic attempt but, in the end, a bit too energetic for its own good.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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