“Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to.”
What would a sequel to Men in Black look like? This is certainly a question we wish we wouldn’t have asked when the 2002 sequel was released with a flat story, an unnecessary revisit to characters whose story arcs were wrapped up, and an overall hit or miss version of the great comedy from the first film. It’s been ten years since the underwhelming sequel hit theaters and fifteen since the original. The new questions are does this series deserve to be brought back? Is it something that people really want? Most of all; can a third movie to a fifteen year old franchise that was never really that special make the series relevant? Whether we want the answers to these questions or not; Men in Black is back in this third installment that reunites director Barry Sonnenfeld with Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K and Will Smith as Agent J to fight yet another alien threat to earth.
The film opens with an alien named Boris the Animal (played by Flight of the Concords’ Jemaine Clement) breaking out of his prison on the moon. Boris apparently has some history with Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and wants to kill him before avenging his entire race that was wiped out by K’s defense strategy set in motion in the 1960s. Boris time-travels to 1969 and kills K before K can prevent the alien invasion that will eventually happen on earth. In the present, J(Will Smith) is the only person who notices that K and everything he did was erased from existence. He comes to find out of Boris’s plan on the same day that the alien race begins invading earth. J then gets a time-traveling device and goes back to 1969 to stop Boris’s plot to kill K and launch an invasion. Shortly after arriving in 1969 J runs into a young K (Josh Brolin) who also wants to stop the Boris in 1969 from killing his friends. From here the movie plays out pretty much how you would expect with a couple of very nice surprises.
I’m a sucker for time travel stories, and this one is no exception. While the film is absolutely loaded with padding and filler subplots (probably because the film had to shut down production for a couple of months because it had an incomplete script), it still has its moments when it’s slightly clever and even intriguing. This is certainly true when J and young K run into a fourth dimensional creature named Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg) who sees all possibilities at the same time until one of them actually happens. The movie certainly doesn’t do anything remotely new in terms of time travel storytelling, but it does put its own comedic spin on things which is still fun to watch. Unfortunately the movie also plays into several of the oldest clichés in the time travel genre. In a word; the movie is very hit or miss. Some ideas work and some of them are just flat out unoriginal and uninteresting. The same thing can be said about the comedy implemented into the movie. There are sometimes that the movie is funny, but there are more than a handful of times when the movie is clearly trying too hard and failing. The biggest problem with the film is definitely the script which is clearly bloated, uneven, and lacking a vision to drive it. This is most evident in the first act of the movie before J travels back to 1969 when the initial case J and K work leads to nowhere and kills 20-30 minutes of screen time. Once the movie makes it to the second act things get a little more on task when young K comes into the picture. The movie also struggles to end properly. While the last ten minutes of the film are certainly funny; it feels rushed and again filled with time travel clichés.
The characters in the movie are pretty much what you would expect. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones slide right back into the roles of J and K and Jemaine Clemet joins the cast as a somewhat (if completely stereotypical) funny villain. The real scene stealer of the movie is Josh Brolin as young K. Brolin plays a young Tommy Lee Jones to perfection. Brolin has him pegged all the way down to the way he smugs and coughs. He steals every scene he is in which makes up most of the movie. Aside from Brolin most of the comedy actually comes from the small supporting characters like Griffin and Bill Hader’s hilarious cameo as Andy Warhol. While Will Smith has a couple of moments; I really didn’t find him particularly funny in this outing for the franchise. There’s not much to the characters in this movie and unfortunately two of the three main leads (the 2 veterans at that) fail to leave much of an impression. Like this aging franchise; Will Smith’s character feels like it simply exists without anywhere to go. While Brolin injects some new energy into the film; Smith is still doing the same old same old from the past two films which leaves much to be desired. Boris the Animal may look creepy and intimidating, but he really goes most of the movie feeling less than threatening. He appears in the beginning of the film and then doesn’t show up again until the final act of the film. He leads the charge in a somewhat intriguing, but still anticlimactic final act that leaves plenty to be desired. This film is filled with plenty of interesting characters; unfortunately most of them are only in the film for just a few scenes while the leads are all stale, predictable, and are caricature versions of their original selves.
The direction for this movie is actually pretty solid. The movie has a very unique look to it as the world is filled with some truly creative alien designs and a really nice balance of CGI and practical design. Barry Sonnerfield returns to the franchise, and while this may not be his best outing he seems to make do with the script (or lack thereof) that is available. While the humor is hit or miss and some of the performances are pretty stale; the direction is consistently solid. I can’t praise him for anything but being consistent, but he doesn’t drop the ball and does the best with what he has.
Overall Men in Black 3 does manage to do some things right, but fails to really do anything special enough to leave an impression that this franchise is worth reviving. The movie certainly shines in moments with Josh Brolin playing young K, the introduction of the fourth dimensional being Griffin, and an attempt at bringing time travel to the franchise, but these moments can’t save the movie from a passive, bloated, and uneven script along with some flat performances from Smith and Jones.
A wise agent once said “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to”. Men in Black 3 may be enjoyable in times, but to sum it all up; MIB3 is the answer to a question I wish studios and audiences had never asked.
The movie certainly has some cool ideas and at points even seems ambitious with the introduction of time travel, but unfortunately the story has some very uneven pacing and is padded out with pointless subplots that are essentially there the fill out the barebones script that the movie was filmed on.
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones both cash a pay check in this film as both of them seem to have played these characters far too statically for far too long. The performances that keep this movie from completely bombing are Josh Brolin who plays an impeccable scene stealing young K/Tommy Lee Jones and all of the cameos and supporting roles by various actors like Bill Hader, Michael Chernus, and Michael Stuhlbarg.
Barry Sonerfield certainly does nothing remarkable in his work on this film, but I will give him some credit for being consistent in tone with the first two films. It seems these movies are only as strong as their scripts with the original blowing away the sequels. While the scripts have faltered; Sonerfield has stayed consistent by delivering some decent looking movies with some truly imaginative alien characters and creature designs as well as a tone that hasn’t changed in any of the movies.
Overall Effectiveness of the Film: 6.0
The movie is a very mixed bag with some things working marvelously while many other things fall flat. There are some notable performances, some excellent creature designs, and some jokes that really are funny. On the other hand there is a very uneven and padded script, some jokes that try far too hard for their own good, some very weak performances (from 2/3 leads), and the overall feeling that everything that is happening is pretty arbitrary.
Overall Score: 5.5