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Tessa Thompson on How New 'Men in Black' Serves as a "Continuation of the Universe"

With the latest entry in the sci-fi comedy series billed as both a sequel and a spinoff, one of the movie's titular agents and long-running franchise producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald weigh in on how familiar viewers need to be with the previous movies, the last of which came out seven years ago.
Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson at the 'Men in Black International' premiere   |   Theo Wargo/Getty Images
With the latest entry in the sci-fi comedy series billed as both a sequel and a spinoff, one of the movie's titular agents and long-running franchise producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald weigh in on how familiar viewers need to be with the previous movies, the last of which came out seven years ago.

Men in Black International has been billed as both a sequel and a spinoff to the sci-fi comedy franchise. 

But according to star Tessa Thompson, who plays Agent M, the movie is neither a follow-up nor a completely fresh film.

"Really I think it's just a continuation of the universe," the actress told The Hollywood Reporter at Men in Black International's world premiere in New York this week. "It's essentially 20 years later. My character, M, who has this experience with an extraterrestrial, it happens sort of on the same timeline as when Tommy Lee [Jones] and Will [Smith]'s characters would have been working inside the organization. I think if they love the original films, our film takes a global scope, thus the 'International.' You've only ever seen these films in the context of New York City. You get to see us in Morocco and London and Italy and Paris and then back in New York. I think there's a real freshness in terms of the action, the advent of all of these aliens. Technology changes so rapidly so what we can do now relative to 22 years ago, when the first film was made, I think we made something special that fans can enjoy, and I hope it'll bring in a whole new generation of people who don't have a relationship with the original films."

But for audience members, how familiar do they need to be with the three previous movies, the first of which hit theaters 22 years ago?

Producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, who've worked on all of the Men in Black films, said they believe the latest entry, starring Thompson and Chris Hemsworth as the agents tasked with protecting the world from the scum of the universe, stands on its own.

"It's a very clear idea," Parkes told THR of the franchise. "In other words, the idea of a secret police, secret agents who are protecting us from the aliens who are all around us and you just don't know it. You can go, 'I've got that, that's interesting. Add to that the style of the movie, the alien tech and the particular tone … I think it's an idea that even if you weren't aware of the first ones, will be very legible to the moviegoer." 

And if you're not up on all of the MIB lingo, International offers a quick crash course.

"We did make sure to in the first minute sort of establish some of the rules of the game, how a neuralyzer works, some of the aspects for those people who don't have a history with the franchise," Parkes explained.

The tone remains the same, MacDonald explained: "You've got to be able to save the world and not even shrug afterwards."

But the fourth film began with a new idea for the character that would ultimately be played by Thompson: "Molly, this young girl who has a sighting and then becomes obsessed with finding the organization, so in a way, she was the character at the beginning."

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