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Men in Black International

The ‘Men in Black’ series has always been quirky. Starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, the science fiction/comedy antics made it an audience favourite over three films. Smith and Jones aren’t involved in this 4th entry, ‘Men in Black International’ which may explain why it comes up short. Proof fourth time isn’t the charm, although It tries to have the same sense of mischievous fun. What surfaces is a mediocre sci-fi yarn that’s been done better.

In London, a new alien threat emerges. A shape-shifting alien duo called The Twins (Les Twins) are in search of a dangerous artefact. The only team that can stop them are the famed Men in Black unit. Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) and new partner Agent M (Tessa Thompson) are ready to stop the otherworldly interloper. Aided by their boss High T (Liam Neeson), H and M galvanise their weapons to defeat any beasties in their well-heeled path.

‘Men in Black International’ commits the cardinal sin of being boring. The quips are there, as are the action and stupendous CGI. Missing is any vitality to the performances or script. It’s a very bland outing with director F. Gary Gray helming things with all the enthusiasm of a student at a double math lesson. Gray shows little flair in crafting anything new, with the series’ familiar tropes given yet another airing. There’s a very manufactured, tired feel – as if the franchise has run out of ideas.

None of this is the fault of the cast who do their best. Hemsworth and Thompson have genuine chemistry and put true personality into their characters. Their co-stars also get into the spirit of fun the film tries to convey. Unfortunately they are constantly undermined by poor writing with the comedic moments forced to breaking point. Given these issues, it’s amazing the pacing isn’t a problem as it moves fast enough. It’s just the energy needed to make for diverting viewing simply isn’t there.

‘Men in Black International’ is a ‘shrug your shoulders’ effort. It’s rather pointless and swiftly vanishes from the memory. Hopefully the studio involved receives the message a fifth entry isn’t needed as fresh, new ideas are always more welcome than any alien invasion.

Rating out of 10: 4

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

It’s easy being confused with multiple sequels as they seem a dime a dozen these days. If there’s money to be made, Hollywood will keep churning them out in order to squeeze every last cent. The ‘X-Men’ films are a good example. Reaching the 12th instalment in the long-running series, ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ adds another layer to the franchise’s mythology. Whether it’s needed is another question but it will look nice in the inevitable DVD/Blu-ray box set. In the meantime, ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ is more of the same cosmic battles for sequel-fatigued audiences.

Now national heroes, the X-Men continue to fight any evil-doers standing in their way. Among powerful mutants are Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Hank (Nicholas Hoult). When Jean’s powers suddenly turn into something more threatening, the team must combat one of their own. Now calling herself Phoenix, Jean’s new abilities threaten to destroy the world unless the rest of her gifted comrades stop her carnage.

Directed with little flair by Simon Kinberg, ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ is a mediocre instalment. Gone is the epic majesty of previous films, replaced with low-key, lethargic pacing. It has a definite TV movie vibe with lots of close up of intense faces with few battle scenes to dazzle the eyes. As writer and director, Kinberg has no one else to blame except himself although ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ has the occasional moments where it dares to soar. Such moments enliven an uneven script showing the potential Kinberg fails to follow through with.

None of the faults found in ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ are due to the performances. McAvoy, Turner and the rest do fine work, bringing vitality to their characters. It’s been pleasurable seeing them progress throughout the franchise, conveying the many emotional layers to their roles. The CGI is amazing as ever. It’s unfortunate the story isn’t as engaging as it should have been with the timeline not fitting well in the overall scheme of things.

As a grand farewell to this iteration of the ‘X-Men’ series, ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ fails. It’s a middling entry infrequently utilizing the series’ rich history. With the Disney company now in charge of the series, it will be interesting seeing where it goes in the future. Even the law of diminishing returns won’t vanquish the mutant heroes with a rousing comeback always assured.

Rating out of 10: 5