This weekend at the movies, we’ve got super-secret agents (Men in Black: International, starring Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth), three generations of bad mother-shut your mouth (Shaft, starring Jessie T. Usher and Samuel L. Jackson), and a fresh voice in the writers room (Late Night, starring Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson). What are the critics saying?
The last time we encountered the Men in Black, Will Smith‘s Agent J traveled back in time and partnered up with a young Agent K (played by Josh Brolin) to save the world, and it certainly seemed like it might be the last time we would see them. While that may technically still be true, there are still plenty of other letters in the alphabet, which means there’s room to follow the adventures of other agents. Enter Men in Black: International, which introduces audiences to rookie Agent M (Tessa Thompson) and her partner Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), both part of MIB’s London branch, who are tasked with uncovering a mole within the organization, all while fending off a new supernatural threat. Unfortunately, critics have not been impressed with this return to the franchise, saying that the film is content to recycle familiar material in an attempt to recapture the original’s magic, but largely fails. The humor is hit-or-miss, the story feels uninspired, and the chemistry between Thor: Ragnarok co-stars Thompson and Hemsworth — not to mention a stellar supporting cast that includes Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Kumail Nanjiani, and Rebecca Ferguson — isn’t quite enough to make up for the film’s other shortcomings. In other words, it’s something of a missed opportunity for all, considering the level of talent involved.
As long as we’re reviving old properties this week, why not go back a couple decades further? Back in 1971, Richard Roundtree became a blaxploitation era icon when he slipped on a leather jacket as John Shaft, and in 2000, Samuel L. Jackson revived the franchise, however temporarily, as the original Shaft’s nephew. Now, almost 20 years after Jackson’s Shaft hit the big screen, comes the next chapter, focusing on young computer science wiz JJ a.k.a. John Shaft III (Jessie T. Usher), who suspects foul play underlying the death of his best friend and enlists the help of his more experienced kin to crack the case. The 2000 reboot was already probably unnecessary, but Jackson made it work, and it benefited from the presence of actors like Christian Bale, Toni Collette, and Jeffrey Wright, and it managed a respectable 67% on the Tomatometer. Not so, this time around. Critics say that, to the extent that Shaft works, it’s indebted to the charisma of its three primary stars, but beyond some laughs and the novelty of seeing the trio together, the film doesn’t offer viewers enough to keep them satisfactorily engaged or entertained. Its attempts to update the character for contemporary audiences are clumsily executed, and its callbacks to previous entries feel forced, but fans of Jackson and Roundtree may be satisfied just to revisit this world.
The one original film opening wide this week is, appropriately, neither a sci-fi blockbuster nor an action film, but a workplace comedy focused on the relationship between two women. In Late Night, Emma Thompson plays Katherine Newbury, the abrasive host of a struggling talk show in need of a boost, while Mindy Kaling plays Molly Patel, a new “diversity hire” in the writers room who catches Katherine’s attention. With Molly’s help, Katherine’s show begins to recover, and the pair form an unlikely bond. It’s a variation on a formula we’ve certainly seen before (The Devil Wears Prada, anyone?), but critics say Kaling — who also wrote the film — and Thompson make it work, thanks to the combination of the actors’ considerable abilities and Kaling’s sharp script. Late Night isn’t groundbreaking stuff, per se, but it hums along genially and, in the end, reveals itself to be a rather heartwarming feelgood story.
A delightful, delicate dance of light and dark, Pose‘s second season achieves a striking balance between the grittiness of reality and the glamour of the runway and shines even brighter.
Despite some strong storytelling, Jessica Jones‘ third season buckles under the burden of being the closing chapter for not only its own superhero narrative, but an entire era of Marvel television.
Also Opening This Week In Limited Release