As massive as some of 2019’s movies have been (‘Avengers: Endgame’, ‘Captain Marvel’, ‘Aladdin’), the last few weeks have seen some major franchise pictures crash and burn at the box office, from ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ to ‘Dark Phoenix’ to this past weekend’s ‘Men in Black: International’. While ‘Dark Phoenix’s fate may have been obvious for months (if not years), the failure of ‘Men in Black: International’ didn’t seem so obvious. But now that the film has arrived with a thud, the dirt has started to emerge.
True, this was a reboot, minus the original stars– Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones– and director, Barry Sonnenfeld, but they were replaced by the likes of Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, and F. Gary Gray. Hemsworth and Thompson are crowd pleasers in the Marvel movies, having co-starred in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and in this year’s phenomenon ‘Endgame’. Meanwhile, Gray directed the smash ‘The Fate of the Furious’ and the acclaimed drama ‘Straight Outta Compton’. The cast also featured many stars who might not be huge draws on their own but are familiar to audiences, including Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, and Kumail Nanjiani.
Now that the movie has fizzled during its opening weekend, word has surfaced that ‘Men in Black: International’ was plagued with behind the scenes scuffles that were kept under wraps, unlike the issues plaguing ‘Dark Phoenix’. Remember that buzz about a ‘Men in Black’/’21 Jump Street’ crossover? That was real, but it sounds as though it fell apart because the producers would have had to have agreed to lower fees. And while it doesn’t sound as though Steven Spielberg, Walter Parkes, Chris Miller, and Phil Lord expressed displeasure, it was ‘Jump Street’s Neal Moritz who balked, leading to that crossover being scrapped. (There were also story issues, as the two franchises weren’t a natural fit.)
It was quickly decided that a new ‘MIB’ would have to be made without Smith and Jones, as they were no longer contracted for more pictures, and would have needed new contracts. And both, no doubt, would have asked for a lot more money. Sony was already mired in negotiations with Smith for ‘Bad Boys 3’, and couldn’t justify undergoing another massive payout to the star for another ‘MIB’.
Sony executive David Beaubaire was supposed to oversee, but left the company last summer and was never replaced, meaning that there was no one steering this ship.
One insider stated that the original script, by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, was quite solid… to begin with.
“The script was good. You don’t attract Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson if the script isn’t good.”
However, insiders say that Parkes (who produced along with his wife, Laurie MacDonald) took a heavy hand during re-writes. Apparently, earlier drafts were “edgier” and “more timely,” to reflect the current state of immigration in the US. At one point, the villains were a band compared to The Beatles– four individuals that would combine into one for the climax. Reportedly, it was Parkes who exorcised the “modern sensibilities” (the political stuff).
These re-writes continued well into the film’s production, with the actors being handed new script pages every day, causing confusion. Marcum and Holloway were on-set, but under Parkes control. Hemsworth and Thompson ended up hiring their own dialogue writers!
On top of his control over the scripting process, two sources reported that Parkes actually took over directing at points, which almost caused Gray to quit, only for the studio to convince him to stay. (No Directors Guild of America rules were reported to be violated.)
As one source reported:
“Walter is both the arsonist and the fireman.”
Ultimately, two cuts of the film were tested, one by Gray, one by Parkes, with Parkes (who had final cut on the film) having his version selected to be THE version released.
An insider stated:
“The studio was an absentee landlord. They were nowhere to be found.”
But the lackluster performance of this film doesn’t mean the franchise is dead. After all, Sony is rebooting ‘Ghostbusters’ again, even after the last film, released in 2016, was a disappointment, financially and critically.
A Sony exec stated:
“The urgency to see this was never there, and the movie needed a greater reason to be. Aliens walking among us is at its core a great idea. Men in Black will be revisited again at one point, either as a series, as streaming, or as another movie.”
Source: The Hollywood Reporter