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It’s new, shiny, and silly, but that’s about it. For a star-studded film, Men in Black: International isn’t particularly stellar. Which is confusing, because with a dynamite cast anchored by Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Liam Neeson, and Emma Thompson, a fist full of nostalgic jokes, the cutest aliens, and the fool-proof blockbuster combo of spies and space, it has everything a solid summer flick needs.

I have to hand it to Tessa Thompson, though. She plays Molly—the smart, snarky IT tech and part-time alien-tracker—with a cool smirk and can-do confidence that covers a hint of relatable, up-tight perfectionism.

 Molly, who saw her parents’ memories wiped with an MIB neuralizer after an alien encounter and who has spent her life trying to track down the Men In Black, teams up with MIB golden boy, Agent H (Hemsworth) when a routine operation to escort a visiting alien dignitary goes awry. Agent H is brash, brave, and a bit cocky, a familiar role for Hemsworth.

The plot simply does not gel. Neither Agent H nor Agent M has a defined character arc, even a cheesy one. It’s like someone “neuralized” the duo’s chemistry in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok right out of this film. The momentum of the film rests entirely on the worn-out theme of “betrayal from inside” and a villain reveal you don’t need a satellite to pick up on.

The beauty of science fiction is it’s daring. Even the original Star Trek series pushed at social issues. True, the MIB franchise is fixed firmly in pop culture and the satirical, not the serious. But the originals, starring Will Smith, engaged with topics still relevant today. The original film (1997) referenced immigration and border patrol. The third film (2012) had a scene involving racial profiling. Whether or not these previous films handled these ideas well is a deeper discussion, but it’s interesting that with this precedent and potential for relevance, MIB: International commits to being light-hearted and making no points.

It’s clean, though. Barring a few innuendos, any language, violence, and sexual content are minimal. It’s funny, too, with callbacks to previous films—“big red button,” “famous people are aliens,” and some fresh, chuckle-worthy material.

Despite its light tone, MIB does weave in an archetypal science fiction theme: What do we do with difference? Perhaps more than previous movies, we see intergalactic alliances and tourism on a grand scale. But the human agents are still suspicious and anxious to protect earth from the “scum of the universe.” In the midst of extra-terrestrial diversity, human agents are strictly uniform.

“You have ceased to be part of the system,” Agent M is told as she is initiated. “We are they.” But she still stands out. She is a woman among the Men in Black. When Agent M escapes through the streets of Markesh, she stands out amongst the locals in her polished black suit. What do we do when we are the one who’s different?

This film shows us a world dealing with difference in a messy, slip-shod way. It’s a story about a girl who needs not be left out, a need best filled by the simple remedy: friendship. And in this respect, perhaps MIB: International is more than meets the eye. As Christians, our ability to welcome should mirror our own access to the inner circle of the universe. (Columbia Pictures)

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