When it comes to the aliens-among-us genre, you’re not gonna beat 2009’s “District 9,” a tale of galactic alien refugees housed in a squalid internment camp in South Africa. Only incidentally science fiction, the Peter Jackson-produced film posed a sociological conundrum. It was (and don’t let this turn you off from watching it) a think piece.
The “Men in Black” franchise went in another direction as studios asked, “Can we squeeze laughs out of the premise of a secret agency quashing the existence of aliens in large metro areas, and get away with two sequels and a spin-off?”
The Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones 1997 pilot was hip and original. But like Pandora after too much Unobtanium has been mined, successive sequels offered less and less.
“Men in Black: International” presses the proverbial reset button. Like the James Bonds of old, it’s anchored in the UK but involves a lot of globetrotting. Tessa Thompson (“Creed,” “Thor: Ragnarok”) is Agent M, an overachieving new recruit paired with the flippant, sometimes reckless, Agent H (Chris Hemsworth, of “Thor” fame). The pro forma duo are tasked with preventing a metallic Everlasting Gobstopper -- actually a galactic weapon of mass destruction -- from falling into the hands of Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), an arms dealer and one-time paramour of H’s. The latter is a character with so much squandered potential that I lamented seeing so little of her so late.
This never-a-dull-moment, heavy-effects chapter features veterans Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson as High T (you gotta love that) and Agent O, heads of the UK and US branches of MIB, respectively. But the break-out character is “Pawny,” a lilliputian protector of an annihilated chessboard civilization. Like Jabba the Hutt’s sidekick Salacious B. Crumb, Pawny (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani of “The Big Sick”) gets all of the best lines though it’s evident he’s there primarily to pander to the youngest demographic.
I didn’t love this one, but if you sit back and let its exploitation of the giant screen entertain you, it won’t be a disappointment. Still, it’s not as fun as it should have been, and there’s not as much chemistry between the leads as there could have been. In other words, “Men in Black: International” is not exactly out of this world, but it’s not space junk either.
Rating: Two and a half honks