Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are great as “Men in Black: International” agents.

But their launch into the world seems a bit by-the-numbers for its own good.

With the opportunity to really shake this up, director F. Gary Gray could have tossed this a real Barry Sonnenfeld curve. Instead, he embraces the rule book and occasionally lets aliens steal Hemsworth’s spotlight.

The action shifts to the London MIB office when Thompson’s Molly scams her way into headquarters and becomes an agent. She’s assigned to Liam Neeson’s watch and, ultimately, paired with Hemsworth who repeatedly has dined out on his looks and his one big case. With a newbie in tow, things could be different.

The two are charged with neutralizing shapes-shifting twins who are causing trouble in Marrakesh. In the heat of battle, Molly (now known as Agent M) is given some key information that could suggest a mole inside the business. This gets the story on another track and gives Thompson a chance to question the moves of her oh-so-handsome partner.

Back at headquarters, a sniveling agent (Rafe Spall) is poisoning the water against Hemsworth’s Agent H. He suggests that H has been coasting for years and needs to be reined in.

While Gray doesn’t include an extensive list of his own aliens among us (a real hallmark of the first films), he does offer a new character, Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani), who gets most of the story’s laughs. He latches onto Agent M as his new queen and factors into the plot at key junctures. When they’re at the island fortress of Riza (a funny Rebecca Ferguson), one of Agent H’s past, um, collaborators, he becomes a vital diversion.

Overstuffed with so-so special effects, “Men in Black: International” seems like a franchise’s fifth or sixth installment, not its first reboot. Hemsworth has great facility with comedy. Thompson is a worthy guide into the new world. But they’re not allowed to take this into anything remotely new.

“International” could have benefited from taking on international politics and explaining why everything seems so topsy-turvy these days.  The news is filled with folks who could be categorized as aliens.

Hemsworth in pink pants is about as risky as the film gets. He rocks them, by the way, but the look doesn’t suggest there’s a shift in the black-and-white world Sonnenfeld created.

“Men in Black: International” is just proof one branch of a worldwide conglomerate can be just as mundane as another.


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