It takes a while for the old men in black to get back in the intergalactic saddle, but once it literally jumps into action, it’s all fun and games.
It’s been fifteen years since Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones first dressed in black, came face-to-face and made contact with extra-terrestrial menaces. Based on a comic book series by created and written by Lowell Cunningham, the original film’s box office success secured not only an animated series, but a lesser 2002 sequel. Now a decade since the titular MIB went toe-to-toe with Lara Flynn Boyle, and we all collectively remember that actually happened, director Barry Sonnenfeld drags himself away from the television to reunite with the team that arguably gave him his greatest success.
Agent J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are still partnered up, and protecting the Earth against illegal aliens. When intergalactic criminal Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes from the LunarMax prison, he only has one thing on his mind: revenge against K, the man who took his arm. Travelling back in time, Boris has seemingly altered all of existence, erasing K from MIB history and leaving the Earth prone to attack. J must leap back in time to not only save the Earth, but learn what it was that went wrong in young K’s (Josh Brolin) past that turned him into a grumpy old man.
Men in Black 3 picks up precisely where the second film left off, not so much narratively but in spirit. At first, the familiarity breeds contempt, with jokes and scenarios that feel stuck in the late 1990s. Worse still, Etan Cohen’s script has made the older K far grumpier than he needs to be, simply as a plot point rather than due to any character progression. So it is ironic that the real joy of this third chapter lies in how truly retro it is, taking us back not just to the original film but the kinds of nutty capers that thrilled us for the decades preceding the first outing. When J quite literally leaps back in time, the film makes a welcome tonal shift that once again makes the film feel fresh and exciting, despite the 1960s setting.
While thoroughly a Will Smith vehicle, the first since 2008’s ill-received Seven Pounds, it is the award-winning Josh Brolin who effortlessly steals a number of scenes. With Tommy Lee Jones taking on more of a bookend performance, phoning it in during his limited time on screen, it’s up to Brolin to deliver an uncanny echo of Jones’ famous deadpan, bordering on imitation but never quite crossing the line. Appearances by Emma Thompson and Alice Eve as her younger counterpart are almost inconsequential, and are certainly forgotten about completely in the last act, which is a shame. Clement, meanwhile, appears to be channelling a heavy-bearded Tim Curry in his two-dimensional villain, but he nevertheless makes with the funny. Michael Stuhlbarg is also terrific as twitchy character always in a state of temporal flux.
With a combination of suitably wow-worthy special effects, and a pleasing number of Rik Baker practical alien heads, Men in Black 3 marks a strong point in the franchise’s history than the earlier moments might suggest. It seems inevitable that this franchise will just keep on rolling, and there is nothing here to suggest that would in any way be a bad thing.
Men in Black 3 was released in Australia on 24 May 2012 from Sony.