Men in Black 3

What It Is

It’s almost as if 15 years haven’t passed since last we saw Agent J (Will Smith). It’s almost unbelievable, that his face remains so unlined, his physique so toned, and his attitude so... er, juvenile. There’s something to be said for consistency, but, as J himself might put it, “Damn!”

Once again, in Men in Black 3, J and his mentor K (Tommy Lee Jones) tend to be at odds, as in, their Odd Couple-ish partnership is premised on their differences in attitudes, expectations, even what you might call emotional (or maybe comic) stylings. Here again, J is relentlessly expressive and self-consciously cute (and not a little anachronistic, reminding you that even in 1997, he seemed a bit ’80s, and not a little Fresh-Princey), while K remains stone-faced, disinclined to share. The combination has apparently kept them quite joined at the hip at MIB, where they remain top agents assigned to keep order among the aliens who live on earth.

This movie’s story begins with an alien not on earth, but rather incarcerated on the moon. Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) is ugly and toothy and missing an arm, owing to an encounter with K at Cape Canaveral back in 1969 — as Apollo 11 was launched for the moon. Boris holds a grudge, and when he escapes his super-secure cell (following bloody mayhem, mostly rendered as splatters on the wall), he heads to earth to exact revenge. His plan is simple and fantastic: he gains access to a time travel device in order to go back to the moments before he lost his arm, so he can kill K.

No one but J knows this has happened when it does: K is simply gone, his apartment inhabited by a forlorn looking mother, his existence a wistful memory for former paramour Agent O (Emma Thompson in the present, Alice Eve in the ’60s) (no one mentions K’s wife, whose memory lured him away from MIB in the first movie). J is still an agent (the movie doesn’t explain how that happens, as K recruits him long after 1969), and so, with O’s advice, J devises his own plan, to go back in time to save the younger K (played by Josh Brolin), and also, by the way, to save the world from an attack by Boris’ very mean race of interplanetary assassins.

Men in Black 3 spends most of its time after this set-up in 1969, which allows J to look even more out of place than he does in 2012, both the inspiration and butt of jokes about the late ’60s (a time when the men in black’s skinny ties are, ironically, in fashion). This, J encounters a number of icons, mostly objects (old phones, old cars, Coney Island, even a couple of references to the fact that the decade was not “the best for your people,” as one helpful observer notes), and also Andy Warhol (Bill Hader), who makes a requisite comment about a “happening.”

The film doesn’t pretend to abide by classic science fiction’s time-traveling “rules” (for instance, Back to the Future’s quaint notion that it’s bad for two versions of the same individual to inhabit the same space, to see each other: here two Borises are happy enough to scheme and commit crimes together). Instead, it skips about erratically, from place to place and also idea to idea.

In part, this is a function of the presence of a new alien, Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), who can see multiple possible futures at any given moment. As he describes what might be coming through a door, J and K are alternately alarmed and ready or unprepared and quite undone. The first time, this trick is vaguely charming. Afterwards, it starts to seem haphazard. By the time the movie arrives at its big showdown at Cape Canaveral, J and K are caught up in an overly sentimental and complex explanation for how they’ve been so fond of one another for so long, despite their stubborn differences.

Why It’s Fun

As much as the Tommy Lee Jones stone face is a gimmick (and an old one by now), it’s still entertaining, and Brolin does a decent job mimicking the original. His non-responses provide the funniest moments of the new film.

The aliens are sometimes clever concoctions, though again, the basic concept is already done. Here the monitors at MIB HQ, revealing humans you might imagine are aliens to be aliens, include Yao Ming.

Who’s Going To Love It

Fans of the first Men in Black may be gratified that the third revisits that movie’s emotional rhythms and jokes. (They will also be gratified that it is nothing like the notoriously bad Men in Black II.) Still, it’s hard to say that these fans will be eagerly awaiting a second sequel so long after 1997.

Some Will Smith fans might be happy to see him returned to an old form, though other Will Smith fans might wonder if maybe he can move on already.

What To Be Aware Of

The film includes lots of antic violence: bodies falling and slamming into walls, cars crashing and careening, and in one scene, J and young K go bowling using an alien’s head. Some of this comes with the franchise’s signature use of goo. The film also includes some slightly gruesome violence, enacted by Boris the Animal, who has a special gift, shooting spikes to kill all opponents. These are nasty, leaving little bloody holes in victims, who are generally pinned to walls.

Some product placements, including Dunkin Donuts and a reference to Aqua Velva (!).

A brief scene suggests the electricity between young K and young O: she looks lovely, but otherwise, she and other girls have precious little to do in this movie.

The party at Andy Warhol’s factory suggests that guests are high, but we don’t see consumption of drugs.

Some references to US racism during the 1960s, sometimes comic, and sometimes awkward. J makes fun of cops who pull him over in a nice car (that is, driving while black), then has to stop himself, because he has, in fact, stolen the car the cops think he’s stolen. Other jokes, concerning Chinese food and the owner of a Chinese restaurant (who is an alien dressed up as a Chinese human) are less motivated, more strained.

Language includes J’s favorite word, “damn,” as well as “shit” (including its usual permutation, “bullshit”), “hell,” and “nasty-ass.”

See-It-Again Points

6 out of 10

Film Information

Men in Black 3
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emma Thompson
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Year: 2012
Rated: PG-13
US General Release: May 25, 2012
UK General Release: May 25, 2012
Official Website
Official Trailer
Movie Pictures

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