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While Men in Black have always protected the Earth from all kinds of alien scums in this new adventure they face their greatest enemy to date. An impostor that threatens the integrity of the whole organization.
*Be aware of spoilers*
In the year 2016 Agents H and High T travel to Paris in order to stop the invasion of the Hive. 20 years earlier in 1996 Brooklyn Molly helps an alien escape and see her parents being neuralysed by Men in Black agents. 23 years after in 2019 Molly, after being rejected from all government agencies like FBI and CIA, tracks down an alien landing which results in her following the MIB agents to the their New York City headquarters. After being caught and explaining why she wants to be an MIB agent she is given probationary agent status as “Agent M” and assigned to the organisation’s London branch.
There she meets High T and Agent H. Agents M and H are assigned to meet Vungus the Ugly, an alien royalty. During the meeting they face two unknown aliens that manifest as pure energy. These aliens manage to fatally injure Vungus who gives M a strange crystal before he dies and says to her that H cannot be trusted. With only a few people knowing of the meeting High T assigned Agents C and M to investigate while H is demoted to desk duty.
M decides to follow H to Marrakesh to recover “Pawny” the last survivor of a small alien race that was attacked by the mysterious aliens. After being hunted by MIB agents they manage to escape and find out that the mysterious crystal was in fact a powerful weapon. After it is stolen they travel to Naples to get it from H’s ex-girlfriend Riza Stavros where M meats Luca, the alien she helped escape when small. Luca returns the favor by letting them take the weapon and leave. The twin aliens confront them but they are killed by High T and a group of MIB agents that arrive to help.
After analyzing the evidence they find that High T was the mole inside the MIB organization and C sends H and M to find him in Paris where they confront him in the Eiffel Tower, acquire the weapon and destroy him before the Hive can reach the Earth through the wormhole. Agent O arrives at the scene and grants M full agent status while appoints H probationary head of MiB’s London branch.
When the first Men in Black came to the big screen in 1997 it was something of a revelation. It was fresh, it was funny and it had the effects at a time that CGI effects were still at their early days but most important it had the perfect chemistry between the two leading roles that elevated the film far beyond what it could have been otherwise. Will Smith and Tomy Lee Jones felt like the perfect mix between the always serious and grumpy agent K and the more goofy Agent J and they really became the highlight of the trilogy that came to be.
But even though the success of the first film spawned another two sequels with less than stellar success that never managed to reach the high status of the first one the two heroes remained at their prime to the last moment and kept the whole trilogy coherent and very enjoyable. But instead of pushing for a fourth film Sony decided to create what they called a spin-off based on the same franchise which means that we would get new characters and settings but without neglecting the previous entries entirely.
And so we reached 2019 where Men in Black: International released with Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson as Agents H and M taking center stage. Looking at the main cast we find a couple more big names like Liam Neeson as Agent High T, Rebecca Ferguson as Riza Stavros and Emma Thompson as Agent O which is very impressive and at first glance looks very promising. But the film is counting mostly on the chemistry that Chris and Tessa would have as there were bound to be comparisons between them and the previous cast of Tomy Lee Jones and Will Smith.
While we have heard a lot of people praising the new main actors and how they manage to show their interaction we believe this also to be the main pitfall of the film. During viewing it felt like it was far too obvious how much the producers of the new film tried to copy the chemistry that Smith and Jones had and ultimately fail to reach the same level as it shows more like a cheap copy than anything else. Chris Hemsworth is obviously Will Smith as the more light and goofy character while Tessa Thompson is the more serious and logic of the two as Tomy Lee Jones was.
What made the original cast look so good is that this interaction they had never felt manipulated or fake. It always felt that these is who they were and the result was really bombastic by itself without the need to set specific directions to it. Here is the exact opposite as what we get feels so much fabricated, due to the comparisons we can make, that looses all it’s magic even if it shows really good at first glance.
The rest of the cast manages to offer solid performances as you would expect from such high caliber actors but they never manage to offer anything more or to excite more than what you would expect. Liam Neeson is the usual Liam and if you like him in general you will know what to get here. The same applies for the rest and in all honesty when it comes to acting everything is overshadowed by the fact that everyone’s focus is on how the main duo will do and not without reason. The stakes are two high and the two main actors had very big shoes to fill in.
And while the two main characters and their interaction would be the one key element that would make or brake this film the other would definitely be the story. There was something in the first Men in Black that made the story feel so compelling and interesting. Not so much here and although we cannot exactly point the finger where the problem lies I can tell you that if I had to choose between re-watching the first film or this one I would definitely choose the first one and not because of the longer time I haven’t watched it but because I still have a very fond memory of how the story evolves and everything moves forward. With the new MIB film when I think of the story I feel a bit bored.
An this is what happens when a movie has an engaging story, it makes you want to see it again. With an uninspiring story you just forget it and move one. There is not something particularly bad about the script of Men in Black: International. It’s just the typical story that involves aliens, plenty of action, secret agendas and a world that is invisible to the public eye and maybe it gets lost in this overwhelming mediocrity. Not that the original Men in Black had a story for the golden awards but it certainly kept our interest more energized.
Another major problem we find here is that what seems to be the main villain of the story, the alien twins, have no character at all. Although they made them look very powerful they feel disconnected from the audience as their character development is almost non-existent and thus making them just another type of bad guys that tend to be cannon fodder till the moment the credits start to roll. There is a nice twist happening here that we cannot talk much about without risking of spoilers but even as such with so little development of the alien twins one should be expecting it.
One thing that the film really nails is that the world feels exactly the same as the one we saw in the previous entries. A world that aliens and humans coexist but never show in the open as the MIB agency makes sure of that. Although we get to see some new designs like the London MIB headquarters the DNA remains the same. As always with a new film we get the chance for new aliens species and designs and here we are not disappointed either as there are some pretty funny ones.
Special mention has to be given to Pawny, the few-inch-tall alien that at some point accompanies our main heroes and certainly becomes the center piece of the film. With some good humor and quick wit the miniature alien tries to breathe some life exactly when the film is starting to get flat and gives a much desired boost to the evolving story. When you find yourself having the desire to see more of this little guy instead of everything else that is going on in the film it must mean something, and not so good I would say. But even Pawny is not enough to save the plot as in the end he gets much less time that what we would like which feels like a wasted opportunity.
Being a Men in Black film means that special effects are a key element and in this regard you will get a fare share of them. Although the action may not seem breathtaking or something we hadn’t seen before, there is plenty across the whole running time in order to keep things at a fast pace when it is needed.
Closing our review we need admit a few things. First of all trying to surpass the dynamics and excellence of the Will Smith/ Tomy Lee Jones acting seemed liked an impossible thing. Trying to do so was bound to be a double-edged sword because if it worked it would create something really amazing but if it wouldn’t, which in all honesty had the highest possibility, it would make it appear as a cheap copy which is not fare as both Hemsworth and Thompson give their best to make it work.
Secondly the story feels weak and uninspiring making you feel boring and uncaring for what will happen next. And things are not getting better by having a villain that is doing nothing more than to keep our main heroes busy. When the whole truth is revealed it is a bit too little too late to hold the film as we have already dangerously approached the ending and the audience probably already lost any interest.
But the film is not so bad that will make you regret the time spend. It has it’s moments even if not so many as we would like. Pawny is certainly a character we found pleasure watching every single second, the effects and action is solid and the design follows the same touches we have got used from the franchise. If you are a big fan of the previous films you will certainly find this one interesting but if you want to spend a couple of hours without thinking a lot of what you see then Men in Black: International is not bad, but certainly it could be a far better one.
Men in Black: International lands into the 4K UHD format with a nice 2160p resolution, HEVC / H.265 encode handled by Sony Pictures. The 4K version comes with an aspect ratio of 2.00:1, is accompanied by a Dolby Atmos audio track but no Dolby Vision so the basic HDR10 will have to make do.
The film seems to originate from a 2K Digital Intermediate so what we get here is basically a 4K upscale. And while we have seen many upscales to offer significant boosts in practically all aspects of the picture we cannot say the same happens here. There are obvious improvements to be said but they are not as big as we would hope especially since a film like this would benefit greatly from the new format.
The increased resolution give more breathing space to the image in order to give a more clear, defined result. As such many details seem to become a bit more pronounced and detailed although you will have to pay a lot of attention to understand it. Textures composition seem to have gained some clarity while surface details are easier to distinguish. Colors also seem to get a slight boost as they feel more intense than in the 1080p version. A film like this uses a lot of color variation as it is a key characteristic of the franchise and as such even a slight boost feels very welcome.
Similarly to colors HDR helps things a bit more even if we don’t get the better Dolby Vision one. There are many special effects like energy aliens, laser fire, explosions, spaceships as well as scenery like the inside of the MIB headquarters that get a boost due to HDR even if we were expecting a bit more. Don’t get us wrong. The image looks great. It’s just that with a film like this it could look spectacular but unfortunately it doesn’t.
On the sound front the Dolby Atmos track that comes in this 4K version is every bit as good as we were expecting it to be. There is a lot of depth here both behind and above us. Surround effects are very well defined and pushed the sound stage well behind us while there were many moments that the overhead layer felt very active and alive putting us right in the middle of the immersion bubble.
Obviously with the film’s many action scenes there are plenty of opportunities for the soundtrack to flex it’s muscles and bass is never shy either as it will rock your house more than a few times. And although shaking is plenty it never feels like it dominates the scene. On the contrary we felt like there was great balance between all the frequencies which is quite remarkable when you consider we are talking about an effects heavy film. As a result the center channel also provides very clear and distinguishable dialogue that was well separated from the rest of the effects even in heavy action scenes.
In total the UHD version offers a very welcome boost in both visuals and audio but without managing to give us the kind of quality that we know the format is capable of. Comparing the Blu-ray and UHD versions will reveal differences but we would describe them as subtle rather than major improvements. In the audio department things fare better as the Dolby Atmos track is as good as it gets offering a truly excellent sonic experience. In the end if you are looking for the best possible version of the film the UHD is the one to get even if it never manages to reach reference quality.
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