Men in Black 3: A Flickcharter’s Movie Review
By every possible scenario, Men in Black 3 should absolutely not work. The original Men in Black, released in 1997, was a box office blockbuster that caught everybody by surprise. On the other hand, its first sequel, released ten years ago, was a out-and-out disaster. Despite still being a box office success, many moviegoers felt cheated by what was essentially a rehash of the first movie with a weak villain (played by the usually capable Lara Flynn Boyle). Despite the issues with the second film, I was willing to give the new sequel a chance. After all, I already knew that if it was at least a step up from Men in Black II, then it would have already done its job. Well, surprise, surprise, the new sequel is not only a step above the previous movie, but it is also something else: A film almost as good as the original.
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are back in the black suits as Agents J and K. As the film opens, a prisoner from K’s past named Boris the Animal (a completely unrecognizable Jemaine Clement) breaks out of a Lunarmax security prison on the moon, with the intention of changing history. On Earth, agents J and K are paying tribute to their old boss Zed (who you may remember was played by Rip Torn in the previous two films; David Rasche plays the 1969 version of the character here). Taking the reigns of Zed is Agent O (a delightfully witty Emma Thompson), a female agent who may or may not have had relations with K at some point in his career. After a destructive incident at a Chinese restaurant, which was caused by Boris, J wants to know more of the specifics of how K fought this particular enemy. Both K and O tell him to stay out of it, saying that there are “some secrets of the universe that shouldn’t be know about.” J’s reply: “That’s not what you told me when you recruited me.”
At the same time, Boris has gone back to 1969 to change history. In the alternate reality, Boris killed K, got away, and J was actually recruited by someone else fourteen years earlier. At first, O thinks he has gone crazy, but when she sees that J has a sudden obsession with chocolate milk, O manages to put all of the pieces together. Now going to the same person who sent Boris back in time, J goes back to the day before the incident (July 15, 1969 to be exact) to try and stop Boris before it’s too late. But when he is arrested by the 1969 version of K (Josh Brolin), it will take a lot of convincing on J’s part to prove that he is from the future and can help stop K stop Boris once and for all.
Let’s start with the basics about why Men in Black 3 is a big step up from the first sequel. By focusing on a time travel plot, the movie is more or less content to have fun with itself and is able to introduce us to some new characters that are actually worth something (unlike the dreaded second movie, where the new characters were nothing to write home about). This is especially true of Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Griffin, a guy who can see into the future, even if what he sees in the future is just a little off. His performance is one of the true gems of this new Men in Black movie, and he even has a tendency to steal scenes directly from Smith and Brolin. He’s absolutely sensational here, and although I don’t think an Oscar nomination is quite in the cards for him at this point, this is a performance to keep an eye on as the year progresses.
And then there is Josh Brolin. Having worked with Jones on No Country for Old Men, he is able to get his mannerisms down in his performance. What I liked most about Brolin’s performance is the different idea we see of K. From the trailer, we think he will be the same uptight version of the character that Jones plays, but the truth is simple. This is a younger and wiser K than we’ve seen before, and Brolin makes it work with his usual charisma. This is probably the most fun I’ve seen him have on-screen since he was in The Goonies, and that’s saying something about my childhood. The rest of the performers are good as usual, but many of them are relegated to the shadows. Sure, Tommy Lee Jones is barely here, but the plot interweaves that situation almost with no issues. When he is on-screen though, Jones is not phoning in the performance in the least. Although he is only here for about 15-20 minutes of the whole film (The film runs 106 minutes total), he steals every moment he has here.
This time, the weight is rested precisely on Smith’s shoulders, and knowing what we have seen him do in the last while, he is more than up to the task. He is as funny and entertaining as usual, and for once, we see a J who is conflicted about the secrets that he is not being told. A plot point at the finale of the film that shows that the film comes full circle back to the original is one of the best surprises I’ve seen in quite a while, and I credit director Barry Sonnenfeld, credited writer Etan Cohen, and the script doctors David Koepp and Jeff Nathanson for making it all work. It makes perfect sense, and my feeling is that the audience will walk away satisfied.
Jemaine Clement might be unrecognizable under the terrific make-up, but he gets to be a satisfying baddie. Although I don’t think it’s quite up to the same level of Edgar from the original, I do think he is much better than the Lara Flynn Boyle villain we got in the second movie (Not only that, but there is no sidekick this time, which makes him work all the better here). Emma Thompson gets a few choice moments to be funny as Agent O. Her eulogy to Zed at the start of the film is not only absolutely priceless, but she reminds us once again that she can actually be funny. The only actor who seems like a victim of the cutting room floor is Alice Eve, who plays the younger version of Agent O. I think she was on-screen for only 5 minutes, and she never had one moment to shine. All I can say about her is that she has the kind of hair that would make the male characters of TV’s Mad Men blush. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention Bill Hader as Andy Warhol. That sequence might be worth the price of admission alone.
I didn’t expect to be won over by Men in Black 3. I just hoped that it would be a step up from the previous sequel, but I was surprised by just how successful the new film is. Since I saw it in 3D, I have no problem telling you that it is up-converted and that you should avoid it at all costs. It looks brighter than most 3D films I’ve seen, but that also might be because I saw it in a Cinemark theater, where they do present it brighter than other theaters. That’s not important though. What is important is that unlike other sequels of this nature, Men in Black 3 is one that actually manages to work and succeed on its own terms. It’s terrific, well-acted entertainment that not only looks good (the special effects are very well-done), but it’s also just flat-out fun.