Movie Review: Men in Black 3

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

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi/action violence, and brief suggestive comment, Running time 103 mins, Adventure/Sci-fi/Comedy

Plays like: Ghostbuster II (1989), Galaxy Quest (1999)

If I had been told in 1997 that by 2012, a third Men in Black would be released that year, my ten-year old self probably would’ve thought something along the lines of “That’s forever away!” Now, in 2012, a decade after the sequel, here we are with the third one and I’m thinking, “Men in Black 3? Already?” I know several people thinking the same. Yet here we are, Will Smith still being all crazy and Tommy Lee Jones being all…not. I don’t know if anyone else particularly wanted another sequel but we’ve got it and if the question is, “Is it good?” The answer might be a divided one.

Since J (Will Smith) was originally recruited to be apart of the Men in Black, a top secret organization created to monitor and whatever else may be needed involving aliens on earth, him and his partner K (Tommy Lee Jones) have always been complete opposites. J is loudmouth and brash while K is cold and detached. After K is taken out of existence by a time travelling alien (Jemaine Clement), J must travel back in time to undo the present, an earth being invaded by the bad guy’s race. But will J be able to convince a young K (Josh Brolin) who he is and what he’s there to do in the little time he’s got?

I don’t mean to start the review out on such an obviously tired note, there are positive things to this movie. Since much of it takes place in the year 1969, screenwriters are able to take a lot of liberty in the retrospective social commentary area. An interaction with an undercover agent masquerading as a pretentious, experimental artist is especially funny. While at a funkadelic fashion/photography/art show, he pleads to a young K to get him out of his cover-turned-life, “You’ve GOT to fake my death. I can’t tell the men from the women!” Josh Brolin does a great job as a young Tommy Lee Jones. His seriousness is treated the same as Jones’ was in the original. Taking a 9-5 man and placing him at the center of the such epic events all with the attitude of, “It’s the job, gotta do it,” is transferred well in Brolin whose concentrated stare and constant nick-name-giving is a great counter-weight to the always eccentric Smith.

Another great role, whose part might be overshadowed by the make-up for some (done again by the great make-up effects artist Rick Baker), is Jemain Clement’s role as Boris “The Animal,” an uber-dangerous alien made of projectile quills and bony fingers. Clement’s voice lends a strange credibility to the part to add to the creepiness of the character. A scene where his future self attempts to instruct his 1960s counterpart is one of the more enjoyable scenes of the film. Clement, who’s best known for his part in the music duo/HBO series, Flight of the Conchords, does a great job and even under all the make-up, it’s fun to see him in a more unique role than he’s normally able to play.

Although for every appreciated scene, there’s something that feels stale and worn. Throughout much of the movie, I felt like K. Not Brolin’s K, quick and almost upbeat with a sense of practical optimism; but rather Jones’ K, exhausted and tired. He retired at the end of the first one, they bring him back for a pivotal role in the story in the second, but with him back in this, I sympathize with his characters’ weariness.

The story is a combination of the first and second, while adding very little fresh elements to the third installment. The first involved training a young, inexperienced agent to the MIB while trying to find a nasty alien antagonist from finding a small, but powerful object and ultimately destroying everything. The second, we needed to dig deep into K’s past to find a small but very powerful object that a nasty alien antagonist also wants that could do…something. Numero tres has J going back in time to save K while eliminating an alien menace that threatens to rearrange time and…ruin everything. They also need to gain control of a very powerful object. Not too much going on here.

I don’t mean to compare the third to the original. Heck, I was 10 and a movie had to be absolutely awful for me to really dislike it. Or it had to be Terms of Endearment or something else my mom would basically force me to watch. But while the original immersed us in a world that we don’t get a chance to see that often and done in a lighter tone than Hollywood would usually care to divulge, this is a glossed over, near reboot of that. Much like Burton and Depp, the makers of this could do this in their sleep it seems, provided they get a writer who’s willing to stay on the same path as the others. There are moments when we catch glimpses of the thrills the original was able to provide, we’re never fully engrossed.

From what I understand, Smith had a large part in rewriting the story. To what extent he had influence over it hasn’t been disclosed. What I do know is that I have no annoyed grievances with the filmmakers and a film that didn’t need to be made. This isn’t a dreckfest the way Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was; it’s just a shame this largely creative idea had to be dragged down by two sequels that only care to piggyback on the success of the first.

Grade: C-

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