There is no reason for Men in Black III to be good. It’s been 10 years since the dreadful sequel to the popular 1997 film, and a third film wasn’t being demanded by anyone. The film was delayed numerous times during filming in order to resolve script issues, which is typically a death sentence for film quality. The director hasn’t changed since the awful second film, as Barry Sonnenfeld is back behind the camera, and the credited screenwriter Etan Cohen (not to be confused with Ethan Coen, of the Coen Brothers) has not worked on an MIB film until now. So, there is really no reason for Men in Black III to be good. But it is.
Will Smith returns to the big screen for the first time since Seven Pounds in 2008, and he finds himself in his comfortable role as Agent J once again. Smith has always been perfect for the part, acting as an injection of humor to the stuffy Men in Black organization. In case you are new to the franchise, the Men in Black are a super-secret group that keeps its finger on the pulse of everything extraterrestrial in the universe. They moderate alien immigration into Earth and coordinate with other planetary species on keeping universal peace.
In MIB3, the peace is disrupted by Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), an alien who has broken free from a lunar-based prison. Forty years earlier, Agent K captured Boris, shooting off his arm in the process. Agent K is once again played by Tommy Lee Jones, who is as good as ever at emotionless glaring. But we don’t get to see all that much of Jones’ stony gaze as Boris travels back in time to prevent the loss of his arm and to kill K before he has the chance to capture him. To save his partner and the world, Agent J follows Boris 40 years in the past, where he teams up with a young and very different Agent K (Josh Brolin) for the mission.
As with all time travel-based films, MIB3 has its share of inconsistencies and downright fallacies, but the breezy tone of the film doesn’t let you get hung up on the details. There’s an overall sense of friendliness that makes you comfortable with suspending any and all disbelief you may have. Many of the jokes fall flat and during the final battle there are 100 moments when Boris probably should have won (no spoiler alert; did you really expect the film to end any other way?), but it almost seems futile to point all these things out. It’s all just in really good fun.
The surprising strength of MIB3 can be found in the relationship between Agents J and K, both in 2012 and 1969. The sassy J has always tried to break through the stoic veneer of K, and by travelling back in time, he gets to see a different side of the stodgy agent. Josh Brolin is pitch-perfect as the young Agent K, able to match Jones’ facial mannerisms and Southern vocal tone as though they actually were the same person. Brolin gets to show off a period in K’s life when he was still focused on work, yet able to smile and even flirt with a sexy fellow agent, Agent O (Alice Eve in the past, Emma Thompson in the present). The emotional climax of the film is a surprisingly touching moment that will make you realize that you’ve actually grown an attachment to these nameless black suits.
On a personal level, I’ve always been fond of the way the MIB films mix real-life events with alien activity. Of course, in MIB headquarters, there’s a big screen showing all aliens masquerading as humans (Lady Gaga obviously included on this list), but there’s more to it than just that. One particular scene of MIB3 has the agents visiting Andy Warhol (Bill Hader) during a fashion show, and it turns out that Warhol is really an undercover MIB agent who keeps tabs on aliens posing as models. The film undercuts Warhol’s pop art by portraying him as a desperate agent who “draws soup cans to keep from going insane.” When somebody tries to get Warhol’s attention, he gets him to go away by saying he’s “filming this man eating a hamburger. It’s transcendent,” as he rolls his eyes, obviously fed up with the ridiculous lifestyle. The scene concludes with Warhol begging K to help him fake his own death.
MIB3 isn’t the most exciting movie, nor the funniest or smoothest, and the sometimes scary violence may be too much for young audiences. But the pacing is fast and the mood is so upbeat that you’ll be amazed at how quickly the film is over. The aliens are cool, the time travel sequence is exciting, the villain is memorable, and the performances are good. Have some fun.
My Rating: (7/10)