More discerning filmgoers will likely find problems with a few of the film’s twists and turns, but moment to moment, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with the Men in Black.
It’s been an entire decade since we last caught up with the Men in Black – even though the time travel premise for the third film had already been pitched back in the MIB2 days. Instead of fast-tracking Men in Black 3, the film wasn’t officially announced until 2009 – with a number of re-writes and further production delays to follow.
In spite of the setbacks, Men in Black 3 has made it out of production and into theaters, relying heavily on the team (minus MIB screenwriter Ed Solomon) that made prior entries such a success, including: director Barry Sonnenfeld, producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, as well as stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Was Men in Black 3 (in 3D) worth the wait? Or is the film just another underwhelming franchise sequel?
Fortunately, Men in Black 3 delivers. It’s a monumental feat, considering the film started shooting with an unfinished script (and no third act). It’s not the best Men in Black movie (that honor still stays with Men in Black) but it’s not the worst, either (that dishonor stays with Men in Black 2); instead, the third film manages to succeed as a result of the same gags and charming character dynamics that carried the earlier entries to blockbuster success. The threequel certainly doesn’t re-invent the wheel and there are some noticeable problems with the overarching storyline (such as an especially awkward choice in the aforementioned third act); however, with plenty of cartoonish alien encounters and neuralyzed members of humanity – not to mention a spot-on Tommy Lee Jones impression from Josh Brolin – audiences are still likely to enjoy another encounter with the MIBs.
As mentioned, the story for Men in Black 3 was pitched long ago as a way of exploring the backstory of notoriously tight-lipped Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). The basic set-up revolves around the escape of an especially violent alien fugitive, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), who lost his arm (and his freedom) in an altercation with Agent K back in 1969. When Boris arrives back on Earth, after almost a half-a-century of imprisonment in space, the Boglodite (an especially mean-spirited species of alien) discovers a method of time travel that grants him the ability to kill-off K prior to their fateful standoff. When Agent J (Will Smith) shows-up at MIB headquarters and discovers that his partner actually died decades before they ever met, he follows Boris’ trail back to the 1960’s in an effort to not only save K, but prevent a full-on Boglodite invasion that the Men in Black had, in the prior version of reality, managed to thwart.
Despite nearly a decade to get the narrative arc right, the Men in Black 3 story is a miss-mash of hits and misses. The movie’s explanation of time travel (as well as reality itself) is, for the most part, successfully presented by second act addition of Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), an alien who is capable of viewing multiple iterations of reality. It’s not the most intelligent or scientific time travel film (see: Primer), but any underwhelming explanations are overshadowed by the on-screen hijinks.
However, as indicated, that doesn’t mean that the story isn’t distracting at times – especially in the obviously tacked-on events of the third act (which features an entirely unnecessary and unearned “twist”), as well as the extreme “grumpifying” of pre-time travel Agent K. While K was never exactly a teeth-sparkling charmer, the character is a soulless shell in the first act – in an effort to set-up his on-the-nose (yet, surprisingly muddled) character arc.
While the existing characters this round aren’t given a lot of new territory to mine, the dynamic between J and K, coupled with tried-and-true alien gags, aren’t stale (yet) – even if they are playing off of a formulae that was established fifteen years ago. While the 2012 elements of the film are mostly variations on prior MIB scenes, the section of the film that takes place in 1969 (roughly two-thirds of the runtime) definitely provides an engaging riff on the old formula. The 1960s setting offers room for some fresh ideas – while jettisoning the silvery alien weaponry and gadgets from MIB and MIB 2 in favor of “dated” tech that serves as the set-up for a number of gags that wouldn’t have been as effective even five years ago. While most of the 1969 characters (MIB agents as well as “celebrity” cameos) aren’t all that memorable, Brolin’s Tommy Lee Jones impression alone makes the time travel premise worthwhile. In addition, for fans of the actual Men in Black, it’s especially fun to see the worn-down agent at a time when his hard-nosed charm was balanced with a roguish sense of humor.
As is the case with other comic book adaptations (yes, Men in Black was originally a serialized comic book), the prior installments add credibility to the argument that, oftentimes, a comic book movie is only as good as its villain (underwhelming antagonists played a huge part in the failure of the original Hulk and Ghost Rider movies). While MIB one offered a capable enough villain in the form of “Edgar the Bug” (Vincent D’Onofrio), most audience members considered MIB 2‘s Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle) to be a misfire. Fortunately, despite thin motivations and a pretty flat arc, Boris the Animal (note: it’s just Boris) has enough bizarre flourishes that make his on-screen antics enjoyable to watch. Clement’s performance is buried under loads of prosthetics and augmented voice work, but even if the character doesn’t showcase the actor’s looks, his onscreen performance provides a pretty satisfying balance of comedy and menace (not to mention bizarre alien traits).
Many theaters will, no doubt, be offering the film as Men In Black 3 in 3D or Men In Black 3: An IMAX 3D Experience – neither of which are really going to be worth the upgraded ticket price. The 3D isn’t distracting (and there are very few “pop-out” screen effects); however, most of the scenes take place at night or inside enclosed spaces – so there’s little opportunity for the filmmakers to do anything particularly interesting with the 3D (or the native IMAX format). Again, the 3D doesn’t detract from the experience, but if given the choice, there’s little reason to pay extra this round.
Despite a number of red flags during the film’s production, Men in Black 3 manages to deliver the same sci-fi/action entertainment that fans of the prior installments will be expecting. As stated, the movie doesn’t do much to shake-up the format – and comes across as mostly “more of the same” (which, depending on how you feel about MIB and MIB 2, might not be a bad thing). More discerning filmgoers will likely find problems with a few of the film’s twists and turns, but moment to moment, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with the Men in Black.
If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Men in Black 3 Spoilers Discussion!
If you’re still on the fence about Men in Black 3, check out the trailer below:
For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant team check out our Men in Black 3 episode of the SR Underground podcast.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.
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Men in Black 3 is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence and brief suggestive content. Now playing in theaters.