Men in Black 3 – Film Review

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Starring: Will Smith, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Emma Thompson and Jemaine Clement

Distributor: Sony Pictures

It’s been a long time since Men in Black II hit cinemas back in 2002, and it didn’t exactly leave a pleasant aftertaste for fans of the series. The original comic book adaptation, which was released in 1997, was a massive hit and more or less cemented Will Smith’s status as a Hollywood superstar. The sequel was generally perceived as disappointing, retaining little, if any, of the charm of the original. This third installment rectifies some, but sadly not all, of MIB II‘s problems.

As many probably already know, the central hook here is time travel. Agent K, once again depicted by the very talented Tommy Lee Jones, has been erased from the present day by a felon known as Boris the Animal. In an attempt to save his partner’s life (and, naturally, the fate of the world), Agent J must travel back to the 60s to stop Boris from killing K. With the help of Young K, depicted with stunning accuracy by Josh Brolin.

It doesn’t help to think about the plot. Like all great time travelling films (i.e. Back to the Future), MIB 3 functions best when all of the loopholes and paradoxes are simply ignored. After all, this is a franchise that has us believe that Elvis went back to his home planet, memories can be erased at the press of a button and the universe is contained in a tiny marble. Silliness and action go hand-in-hand, or at least, that’s the way it should be.

Because, while MIB 3 is now almost as funny as the original, it falls quite flat in terms of action. An opening jailbreak scene is sadly underwhelming, the 60s futuristic motorcycle chase is forgettable and confrontations with the films villain are disappointingly shallow. Considering the towering monstrosities that both previous films employed as antagonists, you might expect this human sized villain to pack some kind of emotional punch, at least. Not so unfortunately.

Frankly, his character is just badly written. He comes across as a very minimalist threat, one that has just happened to stumble across a means to destroy the world. Unlike the Edgar Bug from the first film, a biker named Boris just doesn’t have it in him to mix dark humor with intense danger.

It is the guys saving the world that simultaneously save the film. Will Smith is on terrific form here, given a lot of material to work with. He gets plenty of opportunities to fire off one liners, not just with Jones and Brolin, but also with any number of the supporting cast (though Frank the Pug is no where to be seen, thankfully). A scene in which he is stopped for ‘stealing a car’ in the 60s is utterly terrific, and he also gets to verbally duel with Bill Hader in a surprise cameo.

Emma Thompson is also introduced as O, the new head of MIB headquarters and she slips into the role surprisingly well. Calm and composed, but with a deadpan sense of humor, it soon becomes apparent that she shares something of a history with K but oddly, this doesn’t amount to anything. It is possible that this is a narrative being left open for future installments, but considering that natural chemistry the two characters could have potentially shared, it is ultimately unfulfilling.

But of course, like the previous films, it is the way in which J and K interact that really stand out. Brolin channels Tommy Lee’s character with astounding precision, making himself fully believable as K’s past self. He adds a nice little quirk to the role in that he is slightly more cheerful, despite his deadpan expressions, but never going so far as to make the audience question his character. This is a younger K after all.How he came to be so sullen is revealed at the film’s conclusion and, trust us, it packs quite an emotional punch.

MIB 3 recaptures the zaniness and fun of the original film by adding the time travel concept, but it lacks any kind of adrenaline to keep the ball rolling. Fans of the franchise won’t be too disappointed, considering the rewarding ending. The charisma of Smith and Brolin will keep you in your seat until then, but a film that focuses on secret agents battling alien invasions really should have a little more bite.

Score: 3/5

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