Men in Black III
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Screenplay by Lowell Cunningham, Etan Cohen
Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emma Thompson
How long is Men in Black III? 103 minutes.
What is Men in Black III rated? PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content.
Fantastic performances and (eventually) a smart script make the movie worthwhile.
Though it is easy to be cynical about the Hollywood movie machine and its obsession with sequels, prequels, post-production 3D conversions, explosions and more explosions, the studios can occasionally surprise moviegoers with genuinely entertaining products that don’t only appeal to the lowest IQ holders of the American public. Last month, The Avengers proved that a comic book adaptation (that isn’t directed by Christopher Nolan) can work both as both a big budget blockbuster and a genuine work of cinema. Men in Black 3 is nowhere near that caliber of filmmaking, but it is a decent piece of entertainment and a surprisingly strong third installment of a franchise.
Men in Black was an inventive creation, a sci-fi/comedy mash-up that, thanks to the terrific chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, became one of the biggest hits of 1997. Five years later, all of the good memories from the summer of ’97 were tarnished when director Barry Sonnenfeld re-teamed with Smith and Jones for Men in Black 2. Now, ten more years have passed (15 years since the first film), and the team is together again for the final adventures of the Men in Black.
Sonnenfeld and screenwriter Etan Cohen assume that everyone has seen the first film (generally a big “no no” in cinema), so they dispense with the formalities of explaining who the characters are, what secret government agency they work for and why there are aliens everywhere, and just jump into the story. (In fairness, though, who hasn’t seen Men in Black?) At a maximum security prison on the moon, a grotesque alien being named Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes and heads to Earth to get revenge on Agent K (Jones) for thwarting his plans and shooting off his arm 40 years ago. When K learns that Boris has returned to Earth, he knows that Boris will not stop until he is dead. What he doesn’t know is that Boris plans to travel back in time to do it.
When he reports for work the next day, Agent J (Smith) discovers that K isn’t there and that no one seems to know who he is. The only person who recognizes the name is the new head of the MIB, Agent O (Emma Thompson), who informs J that K was killed 43 years ago. But J knows that he just spoke to him the day before. Eventually they realize that Boris must have travelled back in time and killed K. J then decides to travel back to a just slightly earlier time to stop Boris and keep K alive.
When J gets to 1969 (not a great time for a man of his color), he meets the younger K (Josh Brolin), a friendlier and more jocular version of the K he knows. Young K is also a much better conversationalist, a character trait that is owed to his flirtatious relationship with the younger Agent O (Alice Eve). When J tells K that he is from the future and has come to stop Boris, K believes him (as absurd as the story sounds) and they get to work. Together, the men try to track Boris down and prevent him from setting in motion the imminent destruction of the planet.
Opening in a style more akin to Men in Black 2 than Men in Black, with silly dialogue and cutesy aliens, the movie hits its stride about 20 minutes in, with the introduction of the possibility of time travel and the ripple that was caused by K’s death over 40 years ago. The script stumbles along in the early scenes, but eventually coalesces into a decent story with several very touching moments. Cohen, wisely, doesn’t get too tangled up in the space-time continuum technicalities (the movie is aimed at teens, after all), but throws in just enough scientific jargon to sound legitimate.
Jones, like Robert De Niro, is funniest when he is oblivious to everything comical happening around him. His performance here is just further proof of that fact. Smith, in his first role in four years, appears refreshed and re-energized as an actor. His performance in Men in Black 3 relies more heavily on comedic timing and verbal sparring than on silly faces and faux macho bravado.
The real success of the film comes from the wonderfully talented supporting cast. Nothing will prepare you for Brolin’s dead on performance as a younger Tommy Lee Jones. Somehow, Brolin has mastered Jones’ vocal cadence and the rhythm with which he delivers his dialogue and one-liners. Thompson is also delightful, as always. Her first scene may be one of the funniest of the franchise, and definitely one of the highlights of her fantastic career.
Clement, who has become an unpredictably huge mainstream star, plays Boris the Animal with such devotion that you wonder if no one has told him that the Academy doesn’t really recognize these types of performances. Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Hugo) gives the film’s most hilarious performance as Griffin, the last member of an alien race that can see every possible timeline of events simultaneously. (“It’s an incredible pain in the ass,” he says about his onerous ability.) Stuhlbarg manages to appear both psychologically present and absent in every scene since he is always watching any number of realities. It is a truly remarkable feat.
Men in Black 3 is surprisingly entertaining and reminiscent of the tone and creativity of the first movie. If nothing else, it can be said to succeed because it will make you forget that Men in Black 2 ever happened.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”