Men In Black International Keeps Things Safe

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones were the first to make Men in Black a fun, alien-filled comedy with gags galore.  As a franchise, the stories in subsequent films gave us more of the secret agency ready to protect the universe as we know it from invading extraterrestrials vying for galaxies to intergalactic doo-dads filled to the brim with power. The fourth installment, Men in Black International, crosses the pond to London and Paris where new agents fight a new alien threat.

As a child, Molly (Tessa Thompson) witnessed MIB agents neuralyze her parents after a pesky little alien invades her home. With the knowledge that there is life beyond the stars, she grows up to become a brilliant young woman with the goal to become a MIB agent. She soon learns she has to get creative to get into the top-secret headquarters, only to be discovered by Agent O (Emma Thompson). Her one-mindedness gets her a crack at being an agent in London governed by the stoic Agent High T (Liam Neeson), and her quick thinking gets her teamed up with the legendary Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), a once revered agent who has become careless.  When the double threat of powerful amorphous alien twins (Les Twins dancing duo Larry and Laurent Bourgeois) try to assassinate alien royalty, Agent H and M must figure out the who, when, and whys before there is irreparable damage done to the universe.

Agent H (Hemsworth) and Agent M (Thompson) on the job.
(ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC.) 

This colorful world of aliens has endless potential for high stakes and adventure. In this newest chapter, there seems to be a tried and true approach where if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Director F. Gary Gray who directed 90s classic Set It Off, the acclaimed Straight Outta Compton and the hit Fate of the Furious, kept the same feel to the MIB universe with a touch of slickness, making the film a safe bet for a family night out at the movies.  

Thompson and Hemsworth will fill seats due to their superhero Thor: Ragnarok past together; and there’s quite a bit of fun to be had, including a tiny alien called Pawny voiced by The Big Sick’s Kumail Nanjiani who gets most of the laughs. It was also exciting to see Les Twins, with their hugely successful dancing career leading them to a big budget movie. The film falls short however, with the formulaic and predictable galaxy in danger storyline, especially when there are two great talents as headliners who could give much more.  Thompson, who can play a superhero, artsy girlfriend and sultry executive, is charming if a bit over the top as the determined and ambitious Molly or Agent M, but more importantly, kids see a woman of color excelling at S.T.E.M.  She’s a role-model for little girls who also have their heads in the stars.  It’s also nice to note that the character Molly comes from a two-parent family in a nice home in Brooklyn. Not an unfathomable thing and an important representation of people of color in a big budget film.

Take the kids to see Men In Black International for a bit of fun, but they haven’t reinvented the galactic wheel with this one.  

See You Yesterday Taps Into Sci-Fi and the Black Lives Reality

Netflix does it again by taking a chance on representation. In the tradition of classic TV series like Sliders and Quantum Leap, Stefon Bristol’s first feature film See You Yesterday combines time travel, mistaken identity and black family bonds for a strong sci-fi debut.

CJ (Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Crichlow) trying to figure out time jumping.

CJ (Eden Duncan-Smith) is a brilliant Brooklyn high school student and along with her best friend Sebastian (Dante Crichlow), devises a time travelling, or temporal relocation, machine. After a few technical glitches, they successfully jump to the day before. When her brother Calvin (Astro aka Brian Bradley) gets killed by police due to mistaken identity, CJ thinks she can change his destiny by jumping back in time to save his life.  

Expanding on his short film of the same name, Bristol gets major points for giving us a black female protagonist who is determined, ambitious, intelligent and extremely likable, as well as a heartwarming take on the West Indian community in Flatbush, a loving brother and sister relationship, and a single mother family that lost their father while he was in the army, not by any crime. He shows us everyday life in Brooklyn for black folks, from visiting the neighborhood bodega to being harassed by the police.  The characters seem real with Duncan-Smith, Crichlow and Bradley showing an easy chemistry that transitions from light banter to intense discussions well. Bristol was an intern for Spike Lee, who also produced the film, and you can see Lee’s influence in an homage to his “double dolly shot” and the social commentary narrative, but Bristol has created his own vision of young black Brooklynites in jeopardy.

There will be obvious comparisons to Jordan Peele’s recent Twilight Zone episode, “Replay”, starring Sanaa Lathan. Here, she plays a mother who wants to document her son’s arrival at college with her vintage camcorder only to realize she can rewind the device to go back in time and save him when a racist cop guns him down. Both stories deal with the daily fears of black people being pulled over, interrogated and killed because of the color of their skin. Both deal with strong women who refuse to take the fate doled out to so many innocent black men in this time of protest, but where Peele made an effort to show blacks conquering, Bristol aims for a sobering and open-ended resolution.

The look and feel of the film is deceiving. The wardrobe is hip and young, representing a DIY style of kids on a budget.  A squeal-inducing cameo by one of the original time travellers Michael J. Fox as CJ’s science teacher Mr. Lockhart, the bright, summery cinematography, and strong, witty language seems like a formula for fun, but Bristol has made a teen sci-fi film for this new age of awareness.  This lightheartedness changes tone abruptly to mirror life when you first realize your world isn’t impervious to the outside terrors of violence. Even though this film is speculative and fiction, for those of us who have lost someone when we are young or naïve, it’s a reality. This may not please a lot of people because the film also ends abruptly, but it’s all too real because in this current climate, there aren’t a lot of black families who get their happy ending.

CJ racing against time.

See You Yesterday is streaming now, so do yourself a favor and see it for a perfect representation of how black people continue to create their own narrative. It gives us a wonderful black female character, the message of both despair and hope, and a story that could easily be continued as a popular Netflix series.