There’s an ongoing trend when it comes to high-profile disappointments, box office or otherwise: damage control via a finger-pointing article in the trades. It happened with Suicide Squad. It happened with The Mummy. It happened recently with the Hellboy reboot. And now, it’s happened yet again – with Men In Black: International. The Men In Black sequel/reboot was met with lackluster reviews and tepid box office, which means its time for insiders to reach out to trade publications and try to explain just what the hell happened.
THR is the latest trade pub to get the inside scoop on a high-profile failure. Several anonymous insiders reached out to THR, giving the low-down on what sounds like a troubled production. In fact, the trouble started before the film even came into existence. As the story goes, Sony found themselves at a crossroads in 2016 when it came to the Men In Black franchise. They were considering either a full reboot, or a crossover movie with the 21 Jump Street franchise. But contractual issues caused the crossover to crumble:
But when Street producer Neal Moritz refused to slash his first-dollar pact, according to several sources with knowledge of the talks and development of both projects, the studio pivoted and went for the Men in Black reboot.
Sony could have then considered bringing back original franchise stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, but this idea was seen as “expensive and not as forward-looking proposition,” and so new stars were brought in. Those stars wound up being Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, two very attractive, very charasmatic actors who had already worked together in Thor: Ragnarok. Sony hoped reuniting Hemsworth and Thompson would cash-in on the goodwill of Ragnarok.
And apparently, the script that drew the two actors to the project was good. “You don’t attract Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson if the script isn’t good,” says one insider:
“Early drafts of the script were described as being edgier and more timely, tying the story to ideas of immigration. At one point, a music group a la The Beatles were to be the bad guys, with four people merging into one villain.”
So what happened? It sounds like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. Director F. Gary Gray and producer Walter Parkes clashed over the film’s vision, and Parkes – who had final cut on the film – ended up rewriting much of the script, both before and during production. Rewriters during shooting aren’t entirely unheard of in big productions like this, but they were apparently excessive on MIB: International, to the point where they caused confusion. On top of that, Hemsworth and Thompson ended up hiring their own personal dialogue writers.
Things go so bad that director Gray “tried to exit the production several times but was convinced to stay by the studio.” When all was said and done, two cuts of the film were tested: one from Gray, and one from Parkes. Parkes version ultimately won…and we all know how that turned out.
All of this has me curious to read the “edgier and more timely” script that drew Hemsworth and Thompson to the project to begin with, to see what could have been. Alas, behind-the-scenes squabbles involving filmmaker and producers seems to be a major issue with the Men In Black franchise. In a recent interview with Vulture, Barry Sonnenfeld – who directed the first three Men In Black films – said:
“Walter [Parkes] and [fellow producer] Laurie [MacDonald] and I just didn’t get along. I like them very much as people, and if we’d never worked together I think we’d be friends. But we all have strong egos. There was no chance after the third movie that Will, Tommy, or I would ever do another of those again.”
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