With the re-jig of Spider-Man coming to theaters ten years after the original Toby Maguire vehicle, you’d expect, with that kind of time frame, for the Men in Black franchise to now be in reboot territory. But, to everyone’s surprise (and confusion), the guys in black Armani suits are still present in the guise of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, who, now showing their age, have attempted to bring the series full circle and to atone for the cluster fuck that was Men in Black II (2002). Are they successful? Yes and no.
An alien, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Concords), a dude with a serious vendetta against Agent K (Jones), has escaped from Lunar Max prison with the sole purpose of revenge. However, rather than killing him outright, Boris opts to jump back to 1969 in order to kill Agent K at the pivotal moment of their confrontation, altering history and ensuring that earth is denied a revolutionary defense system, making our planet susceptible to alien hostilities in the future. It’s up to Agent J (Smith), to travel back in time to stop Boris, save K and protect the world.
Whilst its time travel premise seems interesting on paper, there is the underlying question that, in arriving ten years since part 2 and a full fifteen years since part 1, is there any interest in another Men in Black film? The studio certainly have faith, with its big promotional campaign and prime summer release date but, unless the film can muscle some coherence that was all but absent in the sequel, MIB 3 is already dead in the water.
The result is a mixed bag. Whilst the opening prison escape reminds you of why the original Men in Black was fun, once we head to earth to reconnect with our heroes, the goofiness starts in earnest. As with part 2, the charm from part 1 is sorely missing, leaving many of the supposed gags to fall flat on their face. The eulogy scene is particularly cringe-worthy, with Jones’s deadpan but predictably rubbish speech and Emma Thompson’s embarrassing paraphrasing in a shrieking alien language bringing back horrible memories of just how bad part 2 was. Couple this with the fact that Will Smith, whilst charming, just really isn’t all that funny this time round and you’d be forgiven for thinking the film is dead in the water some ten minutes in.
Fortunately it does get better. Once Smith travels back to 1969 it seems that, invigorated by the possibilities the time travel element, all involved up their game. Embarrassment is quickly replaced by humour, thanks to the renewed chemistry of J and the younger K (played excellently by Josh Brolin). In fact, it’s Brolin who saves the day here, playing a much more charismatic Tommy Lee Jones than Jones himself. This is K before becoming the fun vacuum we see in the present, where underneath the deadpan facade is a man of rye humour and sensitivity. The chemistry between Brolin and Smith makes you long to the effortless counter-play of J and K in the original Men in Black.
Ultimately, there is much to like and dislike about Men in Black 3. Considering the protracted production, its admirable to find the end product is a coherent and perfectly capable summer movie. Despite the ropiness of act 1 (seriously, why is a craving for chocolate milk a side effect of a time paradox?) the film comes together in a pleasant, if somewhat forgettable, fashion.
Young Agent K: ‘Last chance: Who are you and what do you know?’
Agent J: ‘I’m an agent of Men in Black but I’m from the future. We’re partners. 25 years from now you’re gonna recruit me and 14 years after that the guy you didn’t let me kill today at Coney Island, he escapes from prison and jumps back in the past and unleashes a full-scale invasion of Earth. We got about 19 hours to catch him and kill him so really, we need to go, right now.’
Young Agent K: ‘Alright.’
Best gag: The Andy Warhol scene.
Plot hole: If K is initially wiped from existence (instigating J’s need to go back in time), why is Will Smith still with the Men in Black? No K means no recruitment for J in the original film, therefore, surely J would have no idea who the Men in Black are or who K is?