Taking nothing away from the talented teams of production staff, special effects technicians, stunt professionals, editors, composers and even the actors, Men In Black: International, another sequel/reboot from Hollywood causes an uncontrollable yawn from Hollywood’s own target market as audiences tire of major American studios’ lack of imagination.
Men In Black: International, a spin-off from the once popular Men In Black franchise (which lost its sheen with Part 3), will be one of Hollywood’s tentpole movies in 2019, reaffirming the saddening trend afflicting blockbuster American cinema that has seen it lose it ability to develop new ideas.
In the 1990s, every release to top the US box office for the year except one was a standalone film based on an original idea or original source (a novel in the case of Jurassic Park). Those films (according to figures on filmsite.org) were, in chronological order, Home Alone (1990), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), Jurassic Park (1993), The Lion King (1994), Toy Story (1995), Independence Day (1996), Titanic (1997), and Saving Private Ryan (1998). The only sequel (or prequel as it turns out) to top the box office for the year was Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 1999.
But in the 2000s, and continuing into the 2010s, Hollywood was banking on its sequels and franchise reboots and spin-offs instead of putting its efforts into original blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Independence Day as in previous years.
Original works topped the early years (How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)) but then it was time for the sequel The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Shrek 2 (2004), Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), Spider-Man 3 (2007), and The Dark Knight (2008). Avatar thankfully broke the trend in 2009.
In the 2010s, Eastwood offered American audiences his celebration of a national hero in American Sniper but apart from that it has been sequel after sequel: Toy Story 3 (2010), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011), Marvel’s The Avengers (2012), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015), spin-off Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), and Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017).
Many of these films have been very well made – their praises sung. But that’s not the argument here. The issue is that Hollywood has given up trying to find unique ideas in favour of pre-packaged product making each new year less and less discernible from the last. Despite the profits being made, this is hindering cinema’s efforts to entice mainstream audiences into theatres, making the time, effort and expense less desirable over watching film and TV via online streaming platforms.
Loosely based on the Malibu/Marvel comics of the same name by Lowell Cunningham, the Men In Black spin-off joins a group of expected box office hits in 2019 that include mostly sequels and few other spin-offs (Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars: Episode IX, Toy Story 4, Frozen 2, Wonder Woman 1984, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and Hobbs and Shaw)
Whether Men In Black: International, which sees a London-based team of MIB secret agents become involved in a murder mystery that sends them travelling the globe, impresses or not remains to be seen. What it does suggest is that Hollywood continues to be as lazy as it has been over the last two decades, mining old ideas under the guise of offering something new.