It has been almost 15 years since Men in Black opened on July 2, 1997. (And 10 years since Men in Black II was released—but let’s pretend that one never happened.) Since that time: James Cameron released both Titanic and Avatar, the entire Harry Potter and Shrek film series came and went, George Lucas released Star Wars: Episodes I–III, and Pixar released A Bug’s Life (it’s second feature film) through Cars 2. So, after all of these years, is another Men in Black film necessary, or even relevant? While Men in Black 3 cannot recapture the originality of the first, it is a fun summer blockbuster that features great performances and astonishing special effects and makeup.
It has been 14 years. Agent J (Will Smith) is still partners with Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). A one-armed, alien criminal—Boris the Animal—escapes from the lunar prison and swears vengeance on the agent who captured and imprisoned him in 1969: Agent K. When J comes into the office the following day, he finds out K has been dead for more than 40years. Working with the new chief (Emma Thompson), J learns he must travel back in time to prevent the younger K (Josh Brolin) from getting killed.
Just like an old tracksuit, Will Smith easily inhabits J, the streetwise agent. While Smith has proven himself a capable actor in meatier roles, it is fun to see him assume the “I make this look good” swagger. Tommy Lee Jones remains the perfect, and still surprising, foil to Smith. Playing the older, more mature partner, Jones still has fun (though he’s looking much older). But MIB3 belongs to Josh Brolin. While mimicking Jones’ physical and vocal cadence, Brolin is never trapped in imitation. He creates a new character that should be the basis for future iterations. Also strong is Michael Stuhlberg, who plays Griffin — an alien who is able to see all potential or possible futures. He is a sweet, interesting character that I hope will be in a MIB4.
Unfortunately, Jemaine Clement’s Boris the Animal doesn’t compare to D’Onofrio’s buggy protagonist from the first film. Yes, Boris is equally disgusting — with a bony, spider-like insect that crawls in and out of a hole in the hand — but there is little comic mischief. Like the wonderful moment in MIB1, when D’Onofrio, trying to act nonchalant, attempts to rest his chin on his hand. The herky-jerky, physical performance is flawless. The only moment that Boris has any levity in MIB3 is when future Boris speaks to past Boris. Then, it’s only funny if you find Clement’s strange voice to be humorous. (Which I did not.)
Like Tim Burton films, Barry Sonnenfeld directed movies often have an affecting and successful look. Specifically for MIB3, the special effects, the scenery, and the makeup are astonishing. Makeup artist Rick Baker (seven-time Oscar winner, including for Men in Black) has created wonderful characters for this film. Look closely at the aliens from the ‘60s: Notice how they all are inspired by sci-fi movies from that period. Genius.
Men in Black 3 is not a great film (perhaps this is due to its initial shooting before a script was finalized) nor does it equal the first of the series. But it is fun, often funny, and momentously better than the second.
My Grade: B