5 Ways to Prep: Men in Black International
By George Rose
June 13, 2019
Some franchises are so big that after enough time they are rebooted for their nostalgia value and assumed potential blockbuster success. Men in Black should not be one of those franchises.
Reboots are nothing new. Tagged-on fourth films to prior successful trilogies are nothing new. Both of these types of films are rarely as successful as the originals but, alas, Hollywood keeps trying. I blame Jurassic World for this recent boom in reboots and also the #MeToo movement, but the latter is at least filled with good intentions. The problem is, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Men in Black: International is both a fourth film and a reboot, as it plays in the same timeline sandbox as the original trilogy but focuses on all new characters in the near future. Jurassic World is sort of the gold standard of this sub-genre at the moment, and before you get your panties in a twist and say it’s Star Wars I ask that you remember that they are on their third trilogy with spinoffs and shows and cinematic universes and what-have-you. Jurassic World is sort of an anomaly though. While the first Jurassic Park was a phenomenon in 1994 ($357 million), the franchise itself quickly eroded (2 made $229 million, 3 made $181 million. Changing the word Park to World must have made all the difference because the rebooted Jurassic Part 4 earned $652 million in 2015. The same fate does not await the Men in Black.
There’s also Part 4 franchise reboots like Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers, although they didn’t wait a decade between parts 3 and 4 so they suffered diminishing returns. They also had first sequels that earned more than the original, so the lowered returns were dropping from higher numbers. A #MeToo version of this shared-universe Part 4 is Oceans 8, but the original trilogy hardly compares in size to Men in Black, Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean or Transformers.
Then we also have the Bourne series, but those earned more and contributed to grow popular over time, except the Part 4 reboot which was a series low. We’ve had a Ghostbuster #MeToo reboot but there were only two original films and not a whole trilogy. Horror movies have all had reboots. Spider-Man has has a handful of reboots and James Bond reboots on the regular. And, as we know it, Hollywood is getting a reboot.
The problem with trying to compare Men in Black to any of those Part 4 reboots is that none of them really lived in this era of amplified Disney dominance. The good news is that Disney owns most of what matters, with a finally-complete Marvel (post Fox merger), Star Wars, Pixar and all of their own fancy live-action reboots. Everything else is just fighting for scraps. After Avengers ruled the galaxy we had Detective Pikachu and John Wick 3, both work towards $150-ish million. Then Disney brought the box office back to life with Aladdin, which was followed by the train-wreck trifecta of Godzilla, X-Men and Secret Life of Pets sequels. It’s almost sort of fitting that the fourth failed attempt at a blockbuster since the last Disney movie is this Men in Black Part 4 reboot. I mean, obviously that has nothing to do with anything but I’m just trying to make some sense out of all this madness.
But why should I try hard to make sense out of this new Disneywood era of movies when the ones making the movies aren’t even trying? Men in Black: International? Really? International, huh? At least Jurassic World was a little more clever with its rebooted title. I get that international audiences have had more access to Hollywood movies in the last decade and global box office is more important than ever, but MIB: International just seems too obvious for even foreign markets not to notice the pandering. But hey, why stop there?!
The International subtitle would be fitting if it was the original stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, as watching them branch out into the world (or universe) would be something to see. But new stars going international? That’s just too much new. Well, maybe the change in stars is such a change that it’ll be worth it. Let’s see, the original MIB had a seasoned white guy (Tommy Lee Jones) training a rookie black guy (Will Smith). MIB: International has a seasoned white guy (Chris Hemsworth) training a half-black woman (Tessa Thompson). Sooooo they traded half the blackness of the trainee to make them a woman and called it a day? Ugh. I mean, if you want real change, you would have made the seasoned vet a Latina lesbian and the trainee a transgender half-black, half Indian. Obviously the woman would have to be the gay one because audiences only like their gay men singing in the 80’s, but I digress.
The point is, Hollywood is lazy. It shouldn’t be “all or nothing.” Like, when Ghostbusters and Ocean’s 8 replaces the entire cast with women. Yes, it was wrong for the original films to be all-boys clubs but “making things right” doesn’t mean “making it all female” or “making it black”. Really, it means “making it mixed.” When the females Ghostbusters had a male secretary, that just cemented that the nature of the reboot was to be “opposite” of the original, but not so much so that three of the four women were still white. No Latinas? No gay male best friends? No mention of Kate McKinnon or her character being a lesbian? You can’t fix the wrongdoings of the past by “doing the opposite.” Sure, straight white men might deserve to be left out a little but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world should fight to replace white men. Aren’t we fighting to be equals, not the next ruler of all?
The problem with changing up something that was once successful is that the change will always be either “too much” or “not enough.” It’s never the perfect amount because there are so many people to consider now. At the end of the day, MIB: International is made up of some pretty amazing parts. It has everything you could want in a blockbuster but nothing that anyone is looking for. I could talk all day about the complexities of a reboot in this post-#MeToo movement, a moment that is more global and all-accepting than ever. But we don’t have all day. What we have is the latest blockbuster hopeful and the 5 Ways to Prep for it. Social politics aside, I really want to like MIB: International but it’s just the wrong time, wrong place. Regardless, if there’s any way we’re going to enjoy Hollywood’s latest dumpster fire then we better start prepping for it.
1) MEN IN BLACK (1997)
So normally it makes sense to watch the most recent film in a franchise before any new entry arrives in theaters. That’s not the case with reboots. Since both Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones aren’t listed on the cast list, the only returning face of the series is Emma Thompson’s Agent O who is basically the equivalent to Judy Dench’s M of the James Bond series. There’s nothing like a member of upper management to keep the mythology alive, right? Except, MIB was never heavy on mythology. Each film is like a one-off telling a unique story that has nothing to do with anything, except Smith and Jones bantering about. There’s aliens, some action, jokes about race and different species, sometimes a hint of romance and always a happy ending. Wash, rinse, repeat. Since there’s not much of a story to continue on from past MIB3, the best comparison for MIB: International is the first MIB. A seasoned straight white male agent spends half a movie training a new recruit that isn’t white about aliens before learning their differences make them a team capable of saving the world, galaxy and/or universe. Aside from going international (which doesn’t seem so special when talking about a world where aliens come from OTHER PLANETS), it’s just a rehash of what we’ve seen before. But maybe if we’re lucky, all the new parts will make this reboot worth watching.
2) THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)
When rebooting a blockbuster franchise it makes sense that producers wouldn’t entirely rely on the brand itself to attract an audience. You need A-list names to back it up. In this era of Hollywood, there are no names bigger than the ones that appear in a Marvel movie. Well Robert Downey Jr costs too much money, Chris Evans has been taking things too seriously outside of Captain America these days and Mark Ruffalo would never stoop so low to be in an action-comedy reboot. That leaves Chris Hemsworth, who has made a great little side career out of campy comedic roles. I guess there’s also Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner but they are powerless agents and MIB needs not just a recognizable name but a superpowered name. Of the four straight white men, Hemsworth lands the gig and casting was underway to find a sidekick. However, I can’t help but wonder if a real reboot should have had the not-white guy be the experienced agent training a bumbling white guy and helping him “get woke,” but I digress. Well, the MIB casting department got tired after hiring Hemsworth and chose Thor: Ragnarok as his funniest Marvel movie, saw Tessa Thompson beside him with great chemistry, and threw the rising starlet a bone. The rest is (my version of) history. Go watch Ragnarok to see what all the fuss about these two performers is about.
3) GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)
I don’t know what’s worse: a franchise like Ghostbusters that rebooted with all women (ignoring a world where women and men are equal, and by having most of the women be white) or a reboot like MIB (where white men do such a kindness in helping “not white” people to enter the workplace, but probably for half the pay). You know what’s worse? The fact that no matter how much or little these movies change, or how good or bad the story is, I still quite enjoy them. That’s right, I liked the Ghostbusters reboot. There were problems with the plot, being all women was dumb, being mostly white was ignorant, and not being set within the same universe as the original series was detrimental to its success. But I liked it! I’m a fan of the women that were cast, I like ghosts, I like comedic action, and I also like McDonalds. Not everything I take in needs to be a five-star gourmet meal. I can watch bad movies and have a good time, especially when the movie stars Chris Hemworth. Before I consider myself a film connoisseur, I consider myself a sexual being and my compass point due Hemsworth. In true post-#MeToo movement, men are pieces of meat and Hemsworth is a whole freaking cow. Is Ghostbusters his best movie? No. Is his role in Vacation one of his most memorable because of his giant schlong scene? Yes. But is Ghostbusters the best example for Hemsworth in an unnecessary reboot that’s destined to underwhelm at the box office, which makes is a good comp for MIB: International? Yes, yes it is.
4) CREED (2015)
Oddly enough, Hemsworth isn’t the only one in this new MIB team that’s pro-reboot. Tessa Thompson partook in the Rocky relaunch focusing on the next generation of fighters after Rocky got too old to do it himself. She played next-gen Creed’s lady lover and had a breakout year in the process. A $100+ million grossing hit with lots of awards attention is great for a movie that only cost $35 million and it's even better for the rising stars cast in it. A $100 million grossing movie with quadruple the budget is a disaster, especially when its riding on a legendary brand that earned almost five-times as much after inflation. While I didn’t expect a MIB reboot to go low-budget and high-class, I also didn’t expect it to fall victim to the new era of “only Disney matters.” Right now, MIB is looking to suffer the same $35-55 million debut and $100-ish million total as everything released after Aladdin. That would put it in the same range as Creed but without any of the awards consideration or financial profit. The question at this point isn’t so much IF the new MIB will bomb or by how much, but what will the aftershock look like? Does this mean we’ll never get a Thor 4 because nobody trusts Hemsworth or Thompson again? Or does this mean we definitely get a Thor 4, because now Hemsworth can’t ask for as much money which would make the movie cheap enough to make? Only time will tell!
5) THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017)
Aside from James Bond, no franchise has had more reboots than Fast and the Furious. The first was a bad-ass take on street racing; the second lost most of the cast and relocated to a more colorful setting; the third was a whole new cast set in Tokyo; the fourth rebooted back to the original cast; the fifth was more about a bank heist; the sixth brought back one of the presumed-dead cast members and really revved up the mythology connecting the whole series; the seventh was a final farewell to original star Paul Walker; and the eighth had to deal with the fallout post-Walker. We’ve seen so many variations of this story and each is exciting in its own regard. After having great success directing the Italian Job remake, Law Abiding Citizen and Straight Outta Compton, F. Gary Gray was tapped to try his hand at high-speed action with Fate of the Furious (aka Fast 8). That $1.2 billion blockbuster likely helped him land the gig of directing yet another reboot in MIB: International.
I’m sure there were high hopes here for MIB 2.0. I mean, you have an established brand, acclaimed director, you have a major movie star and you have aliens. How can those ingredients not amount to massive success? Oddly enough, the reasons for its eventual weak performance are greater than the reasons it should succeed. Even great reviews couldn’t save MIB from disappointing. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it fails because “it’s Disney dominance” or “it’s just as unnecessary as Ghostbusters.” The point is Disney rules the world, and only the diehard movie addicts that can’t help but go see a movie will wait to see MIB: International at home. There’s just too much content and not enough time. I tried locking my Dad down to see MIB4 for Father’s Day but we can’t work out the scheduling, and if I don’t get to see the movie on opening week then it’ll fall by the wayside once Toy Story 4 comes out, and Spider-Man shortly after that, and Lion King shortly after that. Disney and Marvel aren’t leaving much breathing room between releases to let other studios succeed, are they? Times are changing and the sooner the studios can figure that out, the sooner they can stop tarnishing beloved brands that once held a special place in the golden era of cinema past.