While clearly a product of the 90s, Men in Black is still one of the finer examples of top-notch big budget studio filmmaking – it was clever, funny, well-acted and teeming with inventive special effects. In short, it was a ton of fun! Alas, Men in Black 2, which arrived five years later, was anything but! Despite the sequel disappointing on every level, someone evidently thought audiences were still clamoring for a third film. Whether it was Will Smith, Sony Pictures or director Barry Sonnenfeld – all who have their reasons – I can’t say.
Arriving a decade late to the party, this after enduring a notoriously long and bumpy production, Men in Black 3 finally hits cinemas today and the verdict is… in a word: “eh!” Yes, a two-letter word just about sums it up. Far from the outright disaster I expected it to be, and definitely a step up from its stale predecessor, the 3-D enamored Men in Black 3 is exactly what you’d expect from a franchise well past its expiration date: It’s marginally enjoyable while it lasts but you can’t help but be distracted by the whiff of staleness that permeates the whole thing.
Both Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith – so great together in the original – look like they’d rather be elsewhere, the jokes, courtesy of Etan Cohen (and an unaccredited army of writers), mostly fall flat, and the action is uninspired and kept to the minimal. Even the creature effects by Rick Baker (who won an Oscar for the first film) – one of the highlights of the series – are sub-par. Truth told, the only thing this movie has going for it is Josh Brolin’s remarkable performance as the 1969 version of Agent K. Brolin (No Country for Old Men, W., True Grit, Milk), a terrific actor who frankly deserves better than this, is so spot-on with his impersonation of the stoic Jones that he could easily play the older version of the character and most wouldn’t bat a lid. His performance – a thing of beauty – elevates the game of everyone including Smith and uplifts the film from unbearable to watchable.
Brolin comes into play when Agent J (Smith) has to travel back to 1969 and prevent an intergalactic criminal named “Boris the Animal” (Jemaine Clement – looking like a cross between the Undertaker and Dog the Bounty Hunter) from murdering the younger K and thus altering the course of history. Saving younger K would (a) prevent the erasure of older K (Jones) from existence, and (b) save present day Earth from imminent destruction. Confused? Don’t be – it’s less complicated than it sounds. In fact, there’s nothing in this movie that’s remotely complicated or surprising. Like many of Will Smith’s recent efforts, everything about this production is neutered against creativity and risk-taking. Gone are the gross-out creature gags that made the first film so endearing, likewise with the gallery of bizarre characters. What we’re left with instead are a bunch of tired jokes – Tommy Lee Jones is old and crusty (ha ha), Lady Gaga is an alien (ha ha), Andy Warhol is actually a MiB agent (you know, ironic because he’s weird), and Will Smith being racially discriminated against in 1969 – because you know, he’s black and wears a nice suit. Groan!
Still, there are a few nice touches here and there. The time-traveling sequences in which Smith falls through the history of time via New York are spectacularly rendered. So are the thrills during the climax at the Apollo 11 launch. The 3-D is also quite good – which is a rare endorsement coming from a non-3-D advocate as myself; the film’s bright and colorful palette no doubt playing a hand in accenting the aesthetic nature of the gimmick. Nevertheless, these pleasures are nothing but fractured pieces in a largely un-repairable film.
Much better than its decade-old predecessor, Men in Black 3 is what it is – an unnecessary but largely harmless trifle that coasts by on the strength of a terrific performance from Josh Brolin. Save for some sporadic moments, the jokes are flat, the action is dull, the plot isn’t very interesting and Will Smith is well… Will Smith. No offense to Smith, who comes off as a great guy and can be a wonderful actor when he wants to but can you please quit with the blatant cash grabs and start taking some creative risks already?
Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld
Written by: Etan Cohen
Rated: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content)