Mark Reviews Movies

Men in Black 3


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Cast: Will Smith, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emma Thompson

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content)

Running Time: 1:43

Release Date: 5/25/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 24, 2012

Men in Black 3 is not the cynical cash-grab that its predecessor was (That it arrives 10 years after that debacle is probably the most telling circumstantial evidence to the point); neither does it manage to recapture the comic sensibility of the original film (which seems perfectly quaint after 15 years). The movie is a lark—a completely unnecessary entry in this franchise-that-could-have-been—and, even though it manages to escape the been-there-done-that feeling of the second movie, Men in Black 3 still never fully justifies its existence.

The potential is here, especially after a nearly nonsensical, exposition-heavy first act that raises serious doubts about the movie's basic narrative competency. Eventually, screenwriter Etan Cohen begins to play with the series' formula (Extinction-level threat to Earth that allows a series of encounters with strange aliens) for a string of jokes about the 1960s, where Agent J (Will Smith)—he of the eponymous covert government agency that monitors alien activity on Earth—finds himself after discovering that his partner's existence after 1969 has disappeared from the timeline.

The jokes range from the racial tensions of the time to the counterculture of the era, and, yes, perhaps they are a bit too obvious for their own good (The more successful gags, which show us the shadowy organization's early technology, are also pretty simple, though). A clue puts J on the track of a factory, which turns out instead to be the Factory, where Andy Warhol (Bill Hader) is holding a Happening. Based on the series' past tendency to out celebrities as aliens, we fully expect Warhol to receive the same treatment. As it turns out, the initial assumption is incorrect; Cohen, though, doesn't offer much of a punch line to the whole sequence. The movie as a whole is similar: It twists our expectations every so often but leaves itself in the lurch as to how to follow through.

The story begins with the escape of Boris "The Animal" (Jemaine Clement) from a prison on the moon built just for him. He's a burly fellow with loupes where his eyes should be and flesh that opens into a series of pointy teeth (However fitting the guy's nickname is, he insists on being called, "just 'Boris'"). In his palm (In the present, he is missing an arm from an encounter that makes up the movie's climax), he houses a creature the size of a rat that shoots regenerating pincers. As if his mood weren't bad enough from his appearance, Boris is also the last of his kind: the destructive Boglodites, who spent their entire life as a species destroying planets.

Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), J's never-smiling partner, is responsible for Boris' incarceration, and the beginning of their story finds them investigating a strange vessel that has crashed on the streets of New York City. After an awkward interlude at a local Chinese restaurant where the extraterrestrial owner is selling alien fish and a shootout, J and K learn that Boris is loose.

His plan is to go back in time to July of 1969, prevent K from placing a protective shield around Earth using the Apollo 11 rocket, and finish the invasion he had planned almost four decades ago. To save the Earth and, more importantly, K, J jumps back in time (The sequence dizzyingly starts on one of the eagles of the Chrysler Building and leads to J falling through time, from the days of the dinosaurs to 1969; it's a short but sweet excursion) to prevent Boris from killing K and, hence, changing the future.

Back in time, J runs into a younger K (Josh Brolin, obviously having done his due diligence to impersonate Jones—the imitation is spot-on), who does smile occasionally, particularly when he speaks of Agent O (Alice Eve in 1969 and Emma Thompson in the present). J repeatedly asks this younger version of his partner what happened to him to make him the stone-faced man he will become; "It hasn't happened yet," the younger K responds.

At the story's heart (and there is one here, though it takes a lot of time to cement the sentiment) is the relationship between J and K, which has always had a smidgen of affection running beneath the outward bickering. After the climax, which takes place on the Apollo 11 launch tower (It also makes clever use of the time-travel device for a trial-and-error fight), there's a revelation that explains a bit of their unspoken history and is surprisingly affecting. If it seems to come out of nowhere, it's because the screenplay barely hints at the possibility until the moment arrives. It gives us a glimpse of what the movie could have been with a better grasp of its central characters.

Speaking of possibilities, Men in Black 3 does introduce a new character who sees all of them. He's named Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), and he has the gift (He calls it a "massive pain in the ass") to see every potential timeline the universe could offer. He's a flash of something inventive, a trait the movie is otherwise lacking.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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