It is still possible to imbue new life into a franchise even after it’s in its fourth instalment?
You are absolutely right that I am not the target audience of the MIB franchise, which is probably why they have done a bit of a pivot this time around. Success? Absolutely. I’m not talking about an 8/10…more like 6/10. Justin Chang is quite right that it isn’t much of a big deal (though maybe he’d rate this one lower since he liked the first MIB?). It plays more like an instalment of ‘Spy Kids’ when you focus on all the ‘obvious dialogue’ (Molly saying out loud what she’s thinking while observing the ‘meteor’) and effects (the lift declaring: ‘unauthorised visitor’).
I looked through F. Gary Gray’s filmography as a director and nothing about it (like ‘Fast & Furious 8’ and ‘The Negotiator’) gives a hint that he is capable of executing a film like this. Okay, maybe maybe there are cheeky bits in ‘The Negotiator’ that might give me an inkling. Though I’m guessing it helped that Matt Holloway and Art Marcum were there (they both were among the six writers that were credited with ‘Iron Man’).
The inciting incident happens pretty quickly: Molly meets an alien but MIB agents assigned on the job miss wiping her brain (not due to incompetence: the parents assure the agents that their daughter is asleep during the incident). For a workplace comedy, it seems like scenes at the office have the most sluggish pace. The only memorable one is when Nerlene (Annie Burkin) gets scolded by a co-worker for slowing the world down with her brain.
No question the MVP award goes to Kumail Nanjiani voicing chess board piece Pawny. He is the Rocket or Olaf that keeps viewers interested an engaged. Interestingly, the film he is known for (‘The Big Sick’) has got me paying more attention at his co-workers (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano). So that makes things…even? The two Thompsons (Tessa & Emma) are going to be my second mentions as ‘bright spots’ within the film as none of the other characters seemed to have had theirs written (or re-written if it doesn’t exactly fit) for them.
Sometimes, the comedy is from the viewers (which of course includes critics) and I was laughing when I read what Ian Sandwell wrote about Agent C: “Kumail Nanjiani is there to deliver some hit-and-miss one-liners, while Rafe Spall just sneers a lot.” Speaking of Rafe, I really think he has yet to find his niche, or a casting director to realise the unique set of acting muscles he has (as well as type of screen presence he exudes). Too bad this wasn’t the film that attempted to unlock it. I think him playing Danny Moses in ‘The Big Short’ comes quite close (though maybe it’s the lack of his screen time that makes it challenging for viewers to decide), and I still hope that once it’s unearthed, that it has a place in comedy as well.
I struggled through ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and didn’t end up finishing it even if I enjoyed Taika Waititi’s ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’, so that’s probably another reason that this particular MIB film would have more of a chance. Make no mistake though, if not for the comedy, it’ll probably drop down to a 4/10. What I find most interesting, is that it seemed to be geared towards viewers who fancy Chris Hemsworth, and it’s confirmed by a scene with him being watched as he arrives at the office in slow motion. Thankfully it is a buddy movie, and seems to work that way (plus, you know #TimesUp because this is a story with a workplace as backdrop). Then there’s the more important example of ‘grit’ (you’ve seen the TED talk by Angela Duckworth, right?). If a 10 year old watching this with her dad remembers how Molly relentlessly pursued opportunities until she became Agent M, then I think humanity would be the better because of it.
It’s been awhile since I was fascinated with a gadget in a film and the powerful weapon that serves as the McGuffin (but not really – it’s more like ‘The Rabbit’s Foot’ in ‘Mission: Impossible III’, I guess?) makes a couple of appearances and is also used in a comedic gag. It would have been great if that also applied to the other gizmos available to MIB agents. What was probably missing was having a character similar Ben Whishaw’s Q (Spectre) in a montage where Molly choose her arsenal, rather than just a scene showing her one selection.
Just like the feat managed by the second and third instalments of Jumanji (‘Welcome to the Jungle ‘ and ‘The Next Level’) for this iteration of MIB fourth time’s the charm. So my wish (after reading Manohla Dargis mention the lackluster action sequences): can an offer be made to Alfonso Cuarón to direct the fifth? And maybe some sort of Brain Trust be put together for the screenplay? I know it’s surprising to hear me supporting a franchise that has long been declared as on it’s last legs, but come on! The studio who owns the IP is clearly open to invest in it, so why not cheer for it to succeed?
Frustrated Darren Franich gives screenwriters idea of lines that are a sign that a screenplay is not at its best yet:
“Let’s do this!”
“Now that’s what I’m talking about!”
Given my appreciation of well executed set-ups and payoffs, I would agree with Peter Debruge that it’s not a good thing when viewers are treated like dreamers and are randomly taken from one location to another: “After failing to protect Vungus, H and M go to Marrakech for some reason…” (If that wasn’t what happened and there was actually a reason to head somewhere, then that could be an opportunity to tweak the script and give more depth not just to the story, but also to the transitions and likely even making the job in the editing room easier for Zene Baker, Christian Wagner, and Matthew Willard)
It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the best bits of ‘Hot Pursuit’ and ‘Keeping Up With The Joneses’. Despite this I’m not bothered by that at all, because isn’t that what the next one is for? What’s that mantra that Adult Lewis clings to in ‘Meet the Robinsons’? Come on! You know it! Best enjoyed during babysitting duty with a bowl of popcorn (or guacamole salsa with corn chips if you’re not having a ‘cheat day’). I bet your friends would thank you when you offer to take their 8 and 10-year-olds for the afternoon so they could have some ‘me time’.