In the midst of 2014's headline-generating hack of Sony Pictures, a curious piece of news emerged about the future of the Men in Black franchise. Following the release of the time-traveling sequel Men in Black 3 in 2012, the company was looking for a way to reinvent the long-running series, which kicked off with the (still quite good!) Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones starring original in 1997. In leaked emails, it was revealed that executives at Sony were in the early stages of conceiving a mash-up of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum's satirical Jump Street movies with the larger Men in Black fictional universe. At one point, a properly synergistic title was even announced: MiB 23.
It sounded like a terrible idea, the type money-chasing corporate vision-boarding that rarely leads to inspired creative works, and soon the concept was unceremoniously scrapped. By 2016, Jonah Hill was telling reporters who asked about the status of the project that it was "kinda impossible" and he didn't think it would ever get made. "The Jump Street films were so fun to make and the whole joke of them was they were making fun of remakes and sequels and reboots and then now it’s become a giant sequel, reboot," he explained. "It’s almost become what we were making fun of and it’s hard to maintain that joke when it’s so high stakes."
While sitting through the paint-by-numbers reboot Men in Black: International, which introduces new suit-wearing alien-tracking agents played by Thor: Ragnarok co-stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, I kept thinking about the abandoned spin-off idea and how it might have played out. It's not that 21 Jump Street directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller's meta humor, with its blow-it-all-up impulse and self-referential style, would have been an ideal fit with the drier sensibility of the Men in Black movies. But it would have been something, a potentially risky and possibly ill-advised take on a piece of intellectual property that doesn't really inspire much passion. In comparison, Men in Black: International is the blandest outcome imaginable.