Runtime: 1 HR, 43 MIN
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Writers: Etan Cohen, Lowell Cunningham
Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jermaine Clement, Alice Eve, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Emma Thompson
It’s been 15 years since Will Smith joined the ranks of the Men in Black with Tommy Lee Jones to protect the Earth from evil aliens. MiB was released when Will Smith was still a rising star; only a year after leaving The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Its been ten years since the disastrous Men in Black II and nearly four years have passed since Smith has even starred in a movie begging the question, do enough people still care about another Men in Black film?
Agent K (Will Smith) must travel back in time to 1969 to follow an escaped convict alien from killing Agent J (Tommy Lee Jones) in the past which would lead to the Earth’s destruction. While trying to save the Earth and his partner K gets some assistance from an unexpected source… the 1969 version of Agent J.
Unsurprisingly, Men in Black 3 isn’t as good as the original but is light years ahead of the second film in almost every conceivable way. Sadly that’s not a ringing endorsement of the film; MiB3 has a lot of glitz and glam but feels soulless even with the script working in overdrive mode trying to make any kind of emotional connection with the audience.
There’s also a strong ‘phoned in’ quality to MiB3 from the franchise’s returning stars; Will Smith’s
performance is lethargic, Tommy Lee Jones makes an early departure, and director Barry Sonnenfeld somehow manages to make a 3D sci-fi adventure feel surprisingly static and without the energy of the first two films. Will Smith is forced (rather awkwardly) to be the straight man through large sections of the film. That’s not a role that Will Smith seems comfortable with and the near complete absence of Tommy Lee Jones demonstrates a general lack of interest in the film on his part.
Series newcomers Josh Brolin and Jemaine Clement do breath some fresh air into the film but even their roles aren’t handled perfectly. Brolin does a spot on impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones that often steals the show from Smith. Unfortunately mimicking another actor’s performance is a double edged sword since that’s essentially all he does which gets a bit old when it’s all said and done. MiB3′s villain is portrayed by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Concords fame. He’s a better villain than Lara Flynn Boyle in Men in Black II but he’s not even in the same ballpark as the incredibly creepy performance that Vincent D’Onofrio gave in the original film. Like its predecessors the villain’s motivation doesn’t make a lot sense and is almost entirely irrelevant except when it’s necessary to force the characters into a new scene.
Men in Black III not unlike the earlier films doesn’t have much ‘soul’ for lack of better term. What little it has is ham-fisted into the story in the form of regret over missed opportunities for love and satisfaction. The reason I say it’s “ham-fisted” is that it relies on emotional connections that are never developed; Agent J regrets not pursuing an attractive co-worker that he’s supposedly known for years that we’ve never seen before this film and Agent K has Daddy abandonment issues and symbolizes this sadness by carrying his father’s pocket watch… again something never before mentioned in the series until now. Adding emotional depth to these characters hasn’t been a priority in the series until now and it isn’t handled with enough grace to be effective. The series also continues to rely too heavily on deus ex machina to explain gaping lapses in logic or basic storytelling. I expect a certain amount of that from a MiB film but it’s sometimes so jarringly ridiculous how conveniently things happen in the Men in Black universe it disrupts what little flow the film was enjoying.
In terms of special effects this entry holds up well; Men in Black III is a slick looking picture and you can see where the money went. There are a few scenes that look a little cheesy, mainly the scenes that take place on the exterior of the moon but it still doesn’t look completely out of place when compared to the other films. This is obviously the first MiB film to be released in 3D and the effect is generally good thanks large in part to the film being shot in 3D and not converted to 3D in post-production. There are several gimmicky moments but it matches the tone of the film and isn’t distracting. MiB3 was also released in IMAX 3D but was not shot with IMAX equipment so all you’re getting from the IMAX experience is a larger screen and enhanced sound but there is no special IMAX footage.
It’s by no means terrible but there’s also not a lot to rave about either. The question of “Is this movie necessary?” popped up in my mind constantly throughout my viewing. Sadly most of the performances are uninspired and the nagging sensation that “we’ve been there, and done that” never quite goes away. Men in Black III is a forgettable summer popcorn flick but it does look slick and if you’re a fan of the other films you’ll probably find something to enjoy here as well, just keep your expectations in check.