“A Men in Black movie without Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones is like cereal without the milk.”

TV channel M-Net’s Sunday night movie at 20:05 is an occasion that many households look forward to, especially during this lockdown period as it means that there will be a new movie circulating the channels for a while.

Sometimes this movie is a hit and other times it is a miss. The last Sunday night movie that featured on April 26 was a reboot of the sci-fi classic, Men in Black (MIB). The 2019 reboot, Men in Black: International, is the fourth instalment in the MIB franchise, with a brand new cast.

Originally directed in 1997 by Barry Sonnenfeld, MIB, can be classified for numerous reasons as iconic. From action, to fantasy, to comedy, this film has everything you could ask for in a sci-fi film. Rolling Stone film critic, Peter Travers, wrote that, “Escapism crafted this artfully deserves a bravo.”

However, the latest MIB spin-off directed by F Gary Gray leaves the audience feeling underwhelmed and with questions on why the franchise was rebooted in the first place. The 1997 film was the third highest grossing film of the year, whereas the 2019 reboot was a blockbuster disappointment and did not even make the list.

This is the first sci-fi film that Gray has directed, with his previous directing experience being predominantly within the action genre, with the films The Italian Job, Straight Outta Compton and The Fate of the Furious.

The MIB franchise is known for its star-studded cast, with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith playing the main protagonists in the original 1997 film. Fast forward to 2019, and MIB International took big Hollywood names to the next level with stars Chris Hemsworth, Liam Neeson, Tessa Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani and Emma Thompson.

With such a cast, expectations for the 2019 film were fairly high. After the gruelling 1hr 55min that it took to sit through this film, my high expectations were met with proportionate disappointment.

Tessa Thompson plays the beloved, over-eager, and naïve protagonist, Agent M. Thompson’s character dreams about joining the MIB agency the day she catches a glimpse of MIB agents saving her parents from an escaped alien.

It takes her 20 years to turn her dream into reality when she eventually gets a rookie job at the agency, after sheer persistence. Here she is paired with Agent H, played in the film by the ever-handsome Chris Hemsworth.

Hemsworth’s and Thompson’s characters are supposed to replace the beloved 1997 characters of Agent K (Jones) and Agent J (Smith), respectively. While these characters do display some chemistry resembling their 1997 counterparts, there is something that undoubtedly falls short between Agents M and H.

The on-screen chemistry between Jones and Smith and their hilarious banter can be said to be one of the factors behind the success and believability of the original MIB movie. Thomspon’s and Hemsworth’s characters do not have that chemistry, so all the “funny” parts are lost with no driving force to carry the film.

The rest of the film follows a fairly predictable plot that mimics the other MIB films. The driving force of the film is a powerful weapon that can destroy planets which Agents M and H must protect at all costs. The question is: from whom are they protecting this weapon? As in the 1997 original, there are a few action scenes dotted throughout the film, however, what differentiates these scenes from those in previous MIB films is that they are short-lived and underwhelming to watch.

The Guardian film critic, Peter Bradshaw, aptly dubbed the “intensely tiresome and pointless reappearance” of the MIB franchise as “Meh in Black”.

I wanted to see Hemsworth with remnants of his Thor: Ragnarok character. The witty and fast humour that Hemsworth’s character displays in Thor: Ragnarok would suit this film perfectly, making up for other areas where this film lacks. Instead, I got a character that felt watered down, leaving me to ask myself: “Why this role, Chris?”

Thompson’s character does not help the situation much either, as in some parts, her character comes off more like background noise than a strong protagonist. This is due to the fact that it seems as though Thompson does not connect with her character. Bradshaw wrote that the stars of this film were no more than under “a contractual obligation to appear in a bad film”.

Lastly we need to speak about computer-generated imagery (CGI). The 1990s took filmmaking to new levels with the use of CGI on a monumental scale. This allowed people to view films that were previously unimaginable. In 1997 MIB was one of these films and was praised for its use of CGI, so much so that the film was nominated for an Academy award for best art direction.

However, in the present day, with technology being as advanced as it is, the average audience is not as easily impressed by CGI and it cannot be the sole carrier of the film. While there is a fairly apt use of CGI in the 2019 reboot, it is not enough to make the film as incredible as it may have in the 1990s. Plastic looking gadgets and guns that are supposed to mimic those in the original film also make one think that this film was on a tight budget.

American television and film review website, Rotten Tomatoes, scored MIB International a 4.47 rating out of a possible 10. One of the website’s approved critics, Shawn Edwards, had this to say about the reboot: “A Men in Black movie without Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones is like cereal without the milk.”

South Africans still have a long road ahead in terms of being stuck at home due to covid-19, so I would recommend watching this film on a day when you cannot decide what to watch or are just really bored. It is not absolutely terrible but it is not going to blow your hair back either.

Vuvu Rating: 5/10

FEATURED IMAGE: M-Net’s Sunday night movie, Men in Black: International, does not measure up to the 1997 original. Photo: IMDb