Sony Pictures' Men in Black: International, out now in theaters, is both a soft reboot and a spinoff of the original trilogy starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.
Like those films, Men in Black: International is a buddy sci-fi action comedy. The cast co-stars Tessa Thompson (Creed, Westworld) and Chris Hemworth (Thor, Ghostbusters) as Agent M and Agent H; together, they save Earth from alien destruction while remaining invisible to the public.
Unlike the original films, which largely took place in New York City, the new film broadens its scope to include Paris, Marrakech, and London. This is an expansion upon the original concept; now, MIB has offices worldwide.
Director F. Gary Gray straddled a fine line between paying homage and allowing the new film to stand on its own. Too much nostalgia and the film would have been a tired retread. Too little nostalgia, and it would have defeated the purpose of having a spinoff in the first place. In this respect, Men in Black: International succeeded. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones do not make cameo appearances, but there are more subtle references to the previous movies sprinkled throughout.
Here are 10 references to Men in Black, Men in Black 2, and Men in Black 3 in the latest film, Men in Black: International, along with some cool Easter eggs that the filmmakers managed to sneak in.
At the very beginning of the movie, we see the Columbia Pictures graphic, as usual. But then, Columbia puts on black sunglasses and neuralyzes the audience with her raised torch.
In Men in Black 2, the Statue of Liberty's torch also functions as a massive neuralyzer for the entire population of New York City, which makes sense: we learn in the new movie that one of the statue's designers, Gustave Eiffel, was one of the earliest Men in Black.
Frank The Pug, Security Dog
When Molly first tracks down the MIB headquarters, she enters through a Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel ventilator building, just as Agent J and Agent K did in the prior films. When she enters the building, she runs into a single human security guard, reading a supermarket tabloid.
In the first film, Agent K refers to these tabloids as the "hot sheets," which have the best investigative journalism on the planet. When we visit Molly's apartment, we learn that she's a frequent reader as well. Frank the Pug, who is lying next to the guard, spots her and alerts the guard.
Frank appears in the first two MIB films as a Remoolian alien in disguise. Tim Blaney, who voiced Frank in Men in Black and Men in Black 2, reprises his role in the new film.
Agent O Returns
Agent Zed, the head of the American MIB for the first two films, dies prior to the third film. He is replaced by Agent O (Emma Thompson) in Men in Black 3.
Agent O returns as the head of the American MIB branch in the new film. Impressed by Molly’s tenacity, Agent O agrees to let her join the organization. Agent O is the most significant character to be carried over from the original trilogy to the spin-off.
When Molly, soon to be Agent M, is suiting up for the first time, she's given the option to choose her initial sunglasses and weapons. One of her weapons options is an upgraded version of the "Noisy Cricket," the alien weapon with the nasty kickback that Agent J uses in the first film.
Unlike Agent J, Agent M declines the device, and goes for something a little more practical.
Worm Guys On The Express Train
Molly takes a hyperspeed train beneath the Atlantic from New York to London. During her trip, she runs into the iconic Worm aliens, whom we met in the first film; they're the ones making coffee in the MIB headquarters break room. Later in the first film, we see them fleeing Earth, just in case the Arquilians destroy the planet.
Agent K and Agent J Oil Painting
High T (Liam Neeson) is the head of the London MIB branch. We see two oil paintings hanging in his office. The first is of High T and Agent H battling the Hive, which forms the context for the movie. The second is of Agent J and Agent K from the first movie, battling the massive Bug in Flushing Meadows Park. This is the closest we get to a cameo; clearly, our old heroes' exploits have not been forgotten.
Push The Red Button!
In the original trilogy, the notorious "Red Button" in the vehicles triggers some type of space-age, next level boost. In Men in Black: International, pushing the Red Button on the flying motorcycle causes it to transport itself and its riders to the desert outside Marrakech. Pushing the Red Button on the car causes it to fly off like a rocket, and it takes Agent M and Agent H from London to the climactic, final battle in Paris.
New Celebrity Aliens
One of the funniest recurring jokes in the franchise is the reveal of celebrities as aliens in disguise. In the first three films, we learn that Dennis Rodman, Elvis Presley (who is still alive), Sylvester Stallone, and Lady Gaga are all aliens.
The new movie adds Ariana Grande, Elon Musk, Chance the Rapper, and JJ Abrams to the list of Tinseltown's extraterrestrial royalty. If Tessa Thompson had her way (and she did push for it), Cardi B would have been an alien too.
Meta Jokes on Past Performances
There are references to the lead cast’s past roles. The first thing that Agent T (Liam Neeson) says in the movie is how much he hates Paris. The City of Lights is the setting for Taken, where Neeson's character hunts down and kills the sex traffickers who have kidnapped his daughter.
The first time we see Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) in an alien bar fight, he picks up a small hammer and throws it; this a reference to his role as Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And early on in the film, Agent M (Tessa Thompson) receives a box with a maze design on it. This is a direct reference to the Maze symbol in HBO's Westworld, in which Thompson stars as the Executive Director of Delos Destinations, the company that bankrolls the park.
Powerful Things in Small Packages
Lastly, the central plot device of Men in Black: International is a planet-destroying weapon powered by a compressed star. But for the most part, it looks like another alien weapon, similar to the other alien weapons that populate the film.
This is a recurring theme in the franchise: just because something is small does not make it insignificant. This is first explored in the original film; the "Galaxy" is actually a miniature star system the size of a marble. Agent J, who comes from a more humble background than the West Point military graduates he's competing against, is chosen for MIB, because he's more knowledgeable and capable than he first appears.