“Let’s try this again, shall we?” sighs Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) as he prepares to dispatch an extraterrestrial threat in Men In Black: International. It’s a line that sums up the thinking behind the latest incarnation of the aliens-among-us franchise, a spin-off/reboot that – despite boasting new leads, a new director, and a host of new locations – is very much a case of same old, same old.
Two decades have passed since Will Smith first teamed up with Tommy Lee Jones to protect Planet Earth from the worst scum of the universe. Yet the world hasn’t changed in the interim, with mankind still blissfully oblivious to the interlopers in its midst and the sharp-suited enforcers who keep their existence a secret.
Having had a close encounter with a runaway fuzzball in childhood, call-centre worker Molly (Tessa Thompson) knows different and has dedicated her life to discovering what the Men In Black are up to. It’s a quest that leads her to their New York HQ and a meeting with Agent O (Emma Thompson), who’s sufficiently impressed to give her a job in the London office under Agent ‘High T’ (Liam Neeson).
Sent into the field alongside Hemsworth’s arrogant star operative, Molly – now dubbed M – soon finds herself battling an evil entity, a three-armed arms dealer (Rebecca Ferguson) and a couple of shape-shifting twins for possession of a devastating superweapon with the power to level the galaxy. That’s nothing, alas, compared to the true villain of the piece – the crushing sense of déjà vu that comes with every ray-gun, CGI creature and elaborately destructive set-piece.
It’s not the fault of Hemsworth and Thompson, whose playful interactions and relaxed banter make them perfectly acceptable stand-ins for the absent Smith and Jones. But there is only so much either can do with their braggart/rookie characters, one-note roles that make him appear obnoxious and her seem gormless. It doesn’t help that M’s first assignment is cosying up to a reptilian royal (“Are you pimping me out?” she asks with understandable indignation), or that H is granted a gratuitous post-coital clinch with a tentacled temptress. The scene in which M objects to the Men In Black’s sexist nomenclature, meanwhile, might have felt more pointed had Jennifer Lawrence not made exactly the same point in X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
Eye-catching stop-offs in Paris, Marrakech and Ischia give MIB:I a scale missing in earlier instalments, while Kumail Nanjiani has fun voicing a diminutive alien chesspiece. For all its globe-trotting, desert-blasting and hoverbike-riding, however, there’s little here that justifies prolonging a series that should probably have been Neuralyzed a couple of movies ago.