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Read this before you see Men in Black: International

Men in Black, the iconic and successful sci-fi comedy series that's already given us a trilogy, now has fans excited for a spinoff. This time, the 'Galaxy Defenders' have gone international. Perhaps taking a page out of the Jurassic World playbook, Sony Pictures decided to forgo the narrative of the original movies and bring in new characters within the same universe. This time, the action will center around MIB agents played by the Thor: Ragnarok dream team of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. 

The first Men in Black came out in 1997, a time when star Will Smith could do no wrong as the reigning King of Fourth of July openers. Smith's brash, rough-and-tumble MIB newcomer Jay played opposite the deadpan Tommy Lee Jones as stoic veteran Agent Kay. The unlikely pairing sought to rid the Earth (specifically New York City) of the worst scum of the universe, and found success with audiences along the way. The movie was a huge hit, earning nearly $590 million in worldwide box office, a Grammy for Smith's title song, and an Academy Award for the otherworldly makeup effects applied to the film's wild cast of characters. 

Followed by a successful sequel in 2002 and eventually a third film in 2012 that also performed well at the box office and with critics, the original Men in Black has created quite a legacy. What do you need to know before you jump into the MIB's next chapter on June 14th? How will Hemsworth and Thompson take to the black suits? Will we get to see Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones rock the Ray Bans in this one? 

We've got a primer to get you ready for Men in Black: International.

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Beyond New York

Based on what we can gather from the trailer, it appears that Tessa Thompson's character is Agent M, a new recruit sent to partner alongside Chris Hemsworth's Agent H to crack a murder mystery and prevent a new alien threat. Thompson's character seems to get her start with MIB by sniffing out their super secret New York City headquarters before being dispatched to the organization's London outpost. 

Although the film is International, it seems important that the movie begins in NYC. After all, the city was essentially a main character in the original film. Barry Sonnenfeld, director of Men in Black, was a native New Yorker who suggested script rewrites early in the development process that would change the movie's setting to New York City — as part of a winking joke that New Yorkers would barely notice alien life living among them. 

In the first movie, Agent K tells Agent J that the MIB became a necessity in the mid-'50s when the first alien visitors arrived on our planet just outside New York. However, the upcoming movie takes place at MIB outposts all over the world, with the production shooting in England, Morocco, and Italy. These are countries that are obviously far older than America, and may reveal a deeper history of aliens on planet Earth than the earlier movies let on. 

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Where are Jay & Kay?

When word got out that Sony was working on Men in Black: International, the big question on everyone's mind was whether we would see Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones back in the saddle. In the film's trailer, fans are treated to a Jay and Kay Easter egg that reminds us that we are in the same universe as the original trilogy. A painting on the wall depicts the final battle from the first movie, with Smith's Agent J and Jones' Agent K fighting the insectoid alien that had once taken the form of farmer Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio). The painting is hanging near another that appears to depict Hemsworth's Agent H and Liam Neeson's character, indicating that this pair's accomplishments within MIB London are regarded similarly to the heroics of Agent J & Agent K.

The initial word was that Smith and Jones would not participate in the new film. Since then, however, some comments from director F. Gary Gray have led to speculation that we could see a cameo from the original duo. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Gray said, "We went into the project knowing the deep affection we and the fans have for Will and Tommy. We're not replacing them, simply adding to their team." When asked about a possible cameo, Gray replied, "Don't hold your breath — but okay, maybe go ahead and put it on standby."

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The new team

F. Gary Gray (Fate of the Furious) is directing International from a screenplay by Matt Holloway and Art Marcum, the duo who wrote 2008's Iron Man. Steven Spielberg is back as executive producer, a role he served on the original trilogy. Liam Neeson was the first co-star announced for the film. He'll play the head of MIB London, though it's unclear if his presence in the film will be minimized following inflammatory racial comments made while promoting his last film, Cold Pursuit.

The spin-off has a strong supporting cast as well. Emma Thompson will return as Agent O in International. It's possible that Thompson will be the only link between this and the original movies, having become the head of MIB New York in MIB 3, succeeding Rip Torn's Zed. Kumail Nanjiani is playing a comedic alien sidekick, and Rebecca Ferguson has signed on as a lead, likely as a villain battling Hemsworth and Thompson. Rounding out the cast are Rafe Spall (The Big Short) and French dance sensations — and twin brothers — Laurent and Larry Nicolas Bourgeois, best known for being back-up dancers for Beyoncé.

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Comedy chops and pointed satire

The original films were beloved not only for being fantastic adventures with out-of-this-world aliens and technology, but also for their humor. They are essentially a sci-fi remix of the buddy cop genre. In addition to Will Smith's gift for charming physical comedy and Tommy Lee Jones' patented deadpan, the films also succeed as satire, making keen insights about race and immigration. After all, the first movie is about alien visitation by intergalactic refugees seeking asylum. Given today's political climate, you can look back at Men in Black as a progressive parable about the benefits of a compassionate approach to immigration policies.

"I mean, the start of the first movie talks about immigration," Tessa Thompson said. "Will [Smith] has these really searing jokes about race… I think you do have the chance inside of all this escapism to say something, and make a movie that has heart and that has satire and that holds up a mirror to our stuff. I think that's possible, without preaching." Men in Black: International further solidifies the franchise's comedy chops with director F. Gary Gray, helmer of comedy classic Friday. Kumail Nanjiani, known for The Big Sick and HBO's Silicon Valley, is always sure to bring laughs. 

And let's not forget Chris Hemsworth. It's easy to only imagine Hemsworth as the God of Thunder — he certainly looks the part. But with brilliant turns in Ghostbusters, Vacation, and SNL, Hemsworth is building quite the comedic resume. Tessa Thompson is no slouch in the comedy department either — considering the hilarious moments she shared with Hemsworth in the very funny Thor: Ragnarok, it's no surprise that fans are excited to see the pair reteam to don the black suits.

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Alien worldbuilding

You can't have a Men in Black movie without having some of the wildest, most visually incredible alien creatures ever seen on-screen. Yeah, that's a pretty high bar. The legendary Rick Baker has won multiple Academy Awards for movie makeup magic — including one for his work on the first Men in Black movie. Vincent D'Onofrio's giant bug wearing a human disguise and the "worm guys" were made using Baker's ingenious practical alien effects. With Baker now retired, responsibility for setting the all-important visual alien style for Men in Black: International was given to Jeremy Woodhead. 

Jeremy Woodhead is a veteran of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, best known for Avengers: Age of Ultron and Doctor Strange. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Woodhead revealed that he came up with "between 400 and 500 individual sketches for production." The trailer for International seems to indicate some heavy use of CGI, but there are clearly some practical effects in the mix. While the first Men in Black had its share of CGI, puppets and makeup were essential to its style. Regardless of how the world of International is brought to life, it's fair to assume we will get some really amazing and unique visuals regardless. 

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Cool tech

The International trailer hints at more of the cool weapons and technology that have become a hallmark of the Men in Black series. In one particularly awesome clip, fans are treated to an array of secret weapons revealing themselves from within a sleek black car — perhaps as an homage to director F. Gary Gray's involvement in The Fate of the Furious. In addition to the futuristic laser guns and their James Bond, super-spy-style stealth, the trailer also provides a decidedly lighthearted low-tech moment, in which Agent H throws a hammer at an alien adversary to little effect, clearly an ode to Hemsworth's tenure as the God of Thunder. 

The trailer also features the most iconic MIB gadget of all: the neuralyzer. One of the most memorable aspects of the original Men in Black was this memory-erasing device used to make witnesses forget everything about agents and alien lifeforms. The inclusion of the neuralyzer in the trailer is a nice nostalgic touch, albeit an unsurprising one given its prominence in the original trilogy.

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The look

"You know what the difference is between you and me?" Will Smith's Agent J asks Tommy Lee Jones' Agent K in the first Men in Black. "I make this look good." The camera pushes in on the newly black-suited Jay, as he smoothly slides on his Ray-Bans in a now iconic movie moment. This scene defined another big aspect of the series' appeal: the style. Sony Pictures recently released a slew of images from Men in Black: International in an apparent effort to let audiences know that while the names have changed, the effortlessly cool minimalist look hasn't gone anywhere. 

The sleek cars are also a crucial part of the MIB series. In London, we see the aforementioned spy-car with secret weapon racks, the 1970s Jaguar XJ. Later in the trailer, we also see Hemsworth and Thompson riding in a Lexus RC F sports car. In a nod to the 1980s Ford LTD Crown Victoria in the first movie, the RC F can also fly, Back to the Future-style, at the press of a "big red button".

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Almost MIB 23

After the success of MIB 3, rumors swirled about a possible MIB 4 starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones once again. The biggest rumor, which actually wound up being true, was the notion that MIB 4 would actually be a crossover with another buddy cop film franchise, 21 Jump Street starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. News of MIB 23 first broke after the Sony Pictures hack of 2014 leaked emails detailing the studio's plans to combine two of their biggest franchises. The project garnered enough steam to result in the hiring of Muppets Most Wanted director James Bobin.

In 2016, Jonah Hill conceded it was unlikely the project would make it to the screen."I had the idea," Hill told Postmedia Network. "But I doubt that movie will get made. It's too complicated. They're trying to make all the deals, but it's kind of impossible with all the Men in Black stuff. 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. It's almost become what we were making fun of and it's hard to maintain that joke when it's so high stakes."

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The comics

The fourth installment of the Men in Black series hopes to continue to draw audiences with its distinctive combination of effects, action, humor, and style. Based on the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the trailer, it seems like the Men in Black franchise is here to stay. What many movie fans do not realize is that it all started in the pages of a comic book. The first Men in Black comics were published as two three-issue black-and-white series back in 1990 and 1991 by Malibu Comics, the same imprint that created Cowboys & Aliens, another comic that eventually found its way to the big screen. 

Written by Lowell Cunningham and illustrated by Sandy Carruthers, the chief difference between the comics and the films is that the MIB agency deals with all paranormal activities, not just aliens. Over course of the limited series, the agents confront a cult of superdrug users, a demon, a rogue MIB agent with superhuman abilities, a monster drawn from a town's collective unconscious, and of course, aliens. By the time Men in Black hit theaters, Malibu had been acquired by Marvel Comics. So, in a way, Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are in yet another Marvel movie.