Review by C.J. Bunce
A stroll through the spy units in movies like the 007s of James Bond, the Kingsmen of Kingsman: The Secret Service, the spies of Mission: Impossible, the dueling and partnering international agents of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and even the heroine of Atomic Blonde all provide an avenue for fans of the spy genre to see how an actor could also portray a spy of another franchise. An example of this is Pierce Brosnan’s run on Remington Steele as prep for his destined role as James Bond. How would Colin Firth look as a Bond, or Charlize Theron? A similar comparison can be found in the new film, Men in Black: International, and its new novelization by author R.S Belcher.
How would Chris Hemsworth, formerly Captain Kirk’s dad in the first Star Trek reboot movie, but now engrained in the psyche of moviegoers everywhere forever as Thor, especially after his character change-up in Thor: Ragnarok, which tweaked the character with the humor that the actor seems to infuse into his other films and public appearances. As Men in Black’s London division Agent H, Hemsworth is this character–they are indistinguishable. It makes sense–it’s how good casting works–but it will be impossible to read the character and not think of the actor’s persona, charm, and smile as you read it. You may try, but the character of H seems to be one that only Hemsworth could play. Not so much directly written for Tessa Thompson is the new Agent M. The character is a solidly conceived rookie in a wild, fun, and faithful follow-on for the Men in Black franchise. But even with roles in Veronica Mars, Heroes, Creed, and Valkyrie in the Marvel movies, she doesn’t have that same star power–yet. But the novelization is quite a vehicle for that Hemsworth persona, and his fans will love the book as much as they loved the film. How would Hemsworth appear in an Ian Fleming novel? You’ll find out here in this new novel of the British spy genre.
Credit is due to the underlying screenplay written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, but the novelization of Men in Black: International also has some of the finest alien supporting characters of the series, and the story is every bit as consistently full of fun and futuristic science fiction as the first and third movies (far surpassing the second entry in the franchise). The alien Pawn character Pawny is right up there with Michael Stuhlbarg’s Griffin. Pawny is lovable and loyal, a bit like Dobby from the Harry Potter movies.
The challenge of the story was a big one–create characters as important as Agents K and J, and Rip Torn’s Zed and transfer it away from America for something fresh. The Kingsman franchise tried to do this in reverse and for the most part failed, moving Kingsman: The Secret Service from London to America in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Men in Black: International got it right, with the cleverly titled High T as head of the London branch (played by Liam Neeson on the screen). The story makes great use of Emma Thompson’s Agent O from Men in Black III. For anyone who thought cutting the Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones characters from Men in Black couldn’t work, make no mistake, Agents H and M are as developed and every bit as fascinating and layered as Agents K and J.
In-jokes and Easter eggs are plentiful, to throwbacks of sci-fi of the past in particular.
Even without the special effects and cutting edge prop weapons, the action detailed by R.S. Belcher is excellently told and surprisingly visual, taking readers across the globe from New York to London to Marrakech and Naples–the kind of tour you’d find in a Bond novel or movie.
Belcher includes an additional short story telling an early tale from the London branch’s past at the end of the novel.
A good choice for your next summer read, it’s a fun, well-written story, good sci-fi, and faithful to the earlier films. Men in Black: International, the novelization, is available now in paperback everywhere books are sold from Titan Books, and available now here at Amazon.