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Friday November 22nd 2019

Men In Black International | 2019

Men In Black International film location: Ludgate Hill, London EC4
Men In Black International location: battling the Hive twins: Ludgate Hill, London EC4

Agents J and K appear only fleetingly in a painting on the wall of the agency as Agents H (Chris Hemsworth) and M (Tessa Thompson) take over duties – internationally.

The prologue, set in 2016, sees H and High T (groan! – what is it with US movies and tea jokes?) (Liam Neeson) seeing off intergalactic threat The Hive atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris which, we are told, was built as a precursor to the New York arrival facility.

In New York, Molly is determined to get a job with the Men In Black following a childhood encounter with a remarkably cuddly alien.

Using her own skills, she tracks the arrival of an alien called 'Jimmy' and witnesses him being spirited away by the titular Men on Anchorage Place at Water Street, beneath the towering brick arch of the Manhattan Bridge, in the area of Brooklyn whimsically dubbed DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass).

Men In Black International film location: Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel Ventilation Building, Battery Place, New York
Men In Black International location: the famous entrance to the New York agency: Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel Ventilation Building, Battery Place, New York

Following the convoy in a yellow cab, she discovers the now-familiar entrance to the MIB HQ in New York, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel Ventilation Building on Battery Place at Manhattan’s southern tip, seen in the original Men In Black.

The famous entrance hall was recreated in the studio, this time in the UK, at Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire, where the production was based.

Leavesden, occupying the site of a former aeroplane manufacturer, has now been home to plenty of productions, notably the Harry Potter series (it’s home to the Harry Potter Studio Tour).

Molly bluffs her way in and, against all odds, gets accepted by Agent O (Emma Thompson) for a probationary period. She's immediately posted to London.

Forget plane travel, it turns out that New York is linked to the UK by a subterranean rail system, which whisks Molly directly to London.

Men In Black International film location: Canary Wharf Station, Jubilee Line, Docklands, London
Men In Black International location: Agent M is greeted by High T on arriving in London: Canary Wharf Station, Jubilee Line, Docklands, London

The MIB HQ station, where she’s greeted by High T, is the Jubilee Line entrance to Canary Wharf Tube Station in Docklands.

Canary Wharf is the massive redevelopment of London’s old docks area into a major business hub complete with high-end shopping malls, restaurants and bars.

The area is served by the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and by an extension of the underground’s Jubilee Line. The Agency’s arrival station is the eastern entrance to the Jubilee Line Station (slightly smaller than the spectacular western entrance, which you can see in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later…).

Canary Wharf has previous experience of extraterrestrial life when the station’s cavernous interior became the Empire’s ‘Scarif’ facility in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

However, the Agency’s spacious headquarters here is a huge set built, like most of the film’s interiors (and a few exteriors), at Leavesden.

Men In Black International film location: Reform Club, Pall Mall, London
Men In Black International location: Agent H gets into a scrap with the shady aliens: Reform Club, Pall Mall, London

Also in London, Agent H is having a little trouble with a clutch of shady aliens within the confines of a luxurious hideaway. This is one of London’s prestigious gentlemen’s clubs – the Saloon of the Reform Club, 104 Pall Mall, SW1, in the West End.

The Reform Club is famous as the setting-out point for Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s book (though not in the films) of Around The World In Eighty Days. It’s become something of a screen regular in its own right, having appeared as ‘Blades’ club in 2002 Bond movie Die Another Day, as well as the ‘Geographers’ Guild’ in Paddington, in Guy Ritchie’s 2009 revamp of Sherlock Holmes, in the 2001 remake of The Four Feathers with Heath Ledger, the 1998 big screen version of TV's The Avengers and even as the lobby of the 'Dolphin Hotel, New York' in the 2007 film of Stephen King's 1408.

The Reform is strictly members only so, unless you’re lucky enough to someone who can take you in as a guest, you’ll have to be satisfied with seeing its interior on screen.

Men In Black International film location: The Black Friar, Queen Victoria Street, Blackfriars, London EC4
Men In Black International location: Agent H arrives at the secret entrance to the Agency: The Black Friar, Queen Victoria Street, Blackfriars, London EC4

The secret pedestrian entrance to the London MIB HQ accessed by H is London, 174 Queen Victoria Street, London EC4, just across the road from Blackfriars railway station.

Surprise! It’s not a typewriter servicing business at all but a real gem of a pub, sitting on a small triangular plot at the northern end of Blackfriars Bridge.

London is a Victorian pub built on the site of the Dominican Priory which gave its name to the area, but the interior was remodeled in 1905 as a delirious art nouveau fantasy of coloured marble, with copper bas-reliefs of industrious monks, admonishing the drinkers with stern little homilies: "Finery is foolery", "Haste is slow".

It's a small pub can get a bit crowded with the after-office crowd: best to visit on a quiet afternoon to view its unique architecture.

The bar is also featured in the 1987 Merchant-Ivory screen version of EM Forster’s posthumous novel Maurice, and in Michael Winner's 1978 British remake of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, with Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe.

By the way, the manager of the ‘typewriter store’ is a cameo by fashion designer Sir Paul Smith, responsible for the look of those smart suits in the film.

H’s mission is to see that alien royalty, Vungus (Kayvan Novak) enjoys a good night of drinking and presumably debauchery in one of London’s coolest nightspots.

Men In Black International film location: Ludgate Hill, London EC4
Men In Black International location: the bar below which is the danceclub: Ludgate Hill, London EC4

H and Vungus, accompanied by Molly, now Agent M, arrive on Ludgate Hill in the City of London, EC4, the road leading up to the magnificent frontage of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Jamies Ludgate Hill, 47 Ludgate Hill at Pageantmaster Court, housed in a former bank building – which is why it looks so elaborate – is the bar beneath which the club seems to be housed.

The more discreet entrance used is accessed via Ludgate Square, a narrow passage running south from Ludgate Hill a few hundred yards east of Jamies. That tiny yard where the ‘cab’ waits is just a set.

A whole section of the south side of Ludgate Hill was built at Leavesden to accommodate the more spectacular stunts during the later battle with the Hive twins.

Men In Black International film location: Ludgate Hill, London EC4
Men In Black International location: the discreet entrance to the subterranean dance club: Ludgate Hill, London EC4

Alongside the entrance to Ludgate Square there appears to be the branch of a well-known sandwich chain. In fact, this is a gift shop. The well-illuminated appearance of another fictitious branch of this chain later on in the film seems to be part of a product placement deal.

Unfortunately, that subterranean dance club is fictitious but, if you really want to impress alien VIPs, you can hire this place for your big bash.

Men In Black International film location: The Vault, Old Billingsgate Fish Market, Billingsgate Walk, London EC3
Men In Black International location: Vungus is taken to the subterranean dance club: The Vault, Old Billingsgate Fish Market, Billingsgate Walk, London EC3 | Photograph: The Vault

Beneath the high-tech set dressing and moody lighting of the dance club, you can probably make out low, white-tiled arches which are The Vault, beneath the Old Billingsgate Fish Market, 1 Old Billingsgate Walk, EC3, southeast of Monument tube station.

Billingsgate used to be one of London’s great produce markets (along with Smithfield for meat and Covent Garden for vegetables and flowers) which have since relocated to more modern purpose-built premises. The fish moved out in 1982, but the historic Victorian buildings live on as events spaces, including this stylishly atmospheric vault.

Despite the best efforts of the MIB, Vungus is attacked but, before expiring, hands a tiny but extremely powerful weapon to M.

And this is where it starts to get really international. The trail of the drug used on Vungus leads H and M to Marrakech, in Morocco, where they find and join forces with the tiny and horribly cute Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani). Once the Hive twins appear, there’s a bike chase through the Medina and Souks of Marrakech.

Marrakech, despite being a major stop on the hippie trail since the 1960s, remains largely unspoiled. It’s a great place to get lost in the crowded narrow streets. The vast main market square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, remains a jumbled wonder of stalls selling street food and cheap electronics goods alongside traditional storytellers and, seriously, snake-charmers.

Brush up on your French which seems to be the most useful language for visitors.

Now it’s time to activate the famous Red Button, the hyperdrive which whooshes them off to the ‘Empty Quarter’. This featureless desert of sand dunes is Erg Chebbi, a 'dune sea' in the Merzouga Desert of Morocco near the border with Algeria.

Not international enough for you yet? Once that tiny weapon of mass destruction gets stolen by an alien talking beard (this is a Men In Black movie), its inevitable destination has to be interplanetary arms dealer Riza Stavros (Rebecca Ferguson) in Naples.

Men In Black International film location: Castello Aragonese, Ischia, Bay of Naples
Men In Black International location: ‘Riza’s Fortified Fortress of For Sure Death’: Castello Aragonese, Ischia, Bay of Naples

And that’s pretty much where it actually is. ‘Riza’s Fortified Fortress of For Sure Death’ turns out to be the 12th century Castello Aragonese, off the northeast coast of the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples.

It’s not quite as isolated as it appears. Removed digitally is the causeway linking the rocky outcrop to the main island. If you feel you’ve seen it before, Ischia Ponte, the little port with the castle offshore, was used as the fictitious resort of ‘Mongibello’ in The Talented Mr Ripley, with Matt Damon.

The castle grounds and interior are fanciful studio sets bearing little resemblance to the ancient and more austere buildings.

There’s a regular ferry service from Naples to this beautiful little island.

Naturally regaining the weapon and escaping, H, M and Pawny head back to London only to realise, too late, that there’s a mole in the agency. The little gizmo disappears once again.

Men In Black International film location: Moorfields, London EC2
Men In Black International location: chasing the mole, the MIB car roars out of the underground carpark: Moorfields, London EC2

In pursuit of the mole (no spoilers) by car, H and M roar out of the MIB underground carpark. This secret exit is on Moorfields, alongside the British Red Cross office, just across the road from the entrance to Moorgate tube station. And this is where sandwich outlet Pret a Manger gets transformed into one of its rivals, as I mentioned earlier. If they want to negotiate a product placement deal, I’ll be happy to name them for a couple of BLTs.

Turning left onto Ropemaker Street, they immediately race past CityPoint, a location previously seen in two other fantasy films – as the entrance to ‘Innovative Online Industries’ in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, and as the ‘Manhattan’ sidewalk onto which a major character plummets in Doctor Strange.

Full circle returns everyone to Paris and the Eiffel Tower. The Tower’s magnificently steampunky – though sadly fictitious – secret room is a beautifully detailed set built at Leavesden.

The Agency naturally triumphs and that final scene takes place in the formal Jardins du Trocadéro, which are just across the River Seine from the Tower.