Amid what’s slated to be one of the biggest summers for Hollywood — with “Marvel’s The Avengers” smashing box office records, and the highly anticipated releases of “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” slated for release later in the season — my anticipation for a third “Men in Black” film was certainly low, especially after the abysmal sequel that followed a decade ago.
But, nearly 15 years after director Barry Sonnenfeld charmed audience with the quirky, whimsical, and surprisingly fresh original, comes the third film in the uneven franchise.
A noble, if not sordid (given its lengthy production problems) attempt to recapture the lightning in a bottle that was the first. Though everyone knows the first lesson about catching lightning in a bottle: It’s nearly impossible.
But with “Men in Black III,” Sonnenfeld and co. give a valiant effort. A thoroughly enjoyable effort that proves to be eons better than its previous attempt, yet still a few yards left of the mark.
Where the former “MIB” attempted to capitalize on the spectacle — and not the charm — of the original, “MIB III” spends a majority of its efforts capitalizing on the charm element through the intriguing narrative structure and witty one-liners of Etan Cohen’s screenplay and clever visual puns that give praise to Sonnenfeld’s original directorial efforts.
Combined with the rich ‘odd-couple’ chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, and the addition of Josh Brolin, this latest installment proves to be a welcomed one, whether we asked for it or not.
The film picks up in roughly the same time frame since we last visited it — with Agent K (Jones) and his partner J (Smith) going through the daily doldrums of keeping the planet safe from intergalactic destruction.
In keeping with canon, J is now a “senior agent” since he’s 15 years-strong on the job, and he is still as hopeless as ever in his attempts to understand his partner’s stone-cold psyche.
Though this time around, K becomes even more emotionally detached from his partner after Boris the Animal (“Flight of the Conchord’s” Jemaine Clement) — a ruthless, spiky, one-armed alien thug K locked decades ago — breaks out of a maximum security lunar prison and once again threatens Earth’s safety.
The MacGuffin of the first half of the film relies on a certain outlawed and supposedly destroyed time travel device that Boris has stolen to travel back to 1969 and kill K, thus changing the course of history, so his currently extinct alien race can take over the planet. After Boris makes the time jump and erases K from the current present, J must track down the last remaining time-travel doohickey and (literally) jump back in time to save the Earth from imminent alien destruction.
The choice to use the narrative of time-travel, and more specifically, the choice of shooting J back to the late 60’s is one of the strongest elements going for “MIB III.”
As one of the most socially and politically distinct years in America’s history, it’s used for moderate comedic effect in J’s fish-out-of-water (er, time) gags that Sonnenfeld populates the second half of the film with. And it’s even more charming to watch Sonnenfeld have fun with cultural staples like the the Vietnam war, the Black Panthers, and most effectively, Andy Warhol (brilliantly portrayed by Bill Hader) and the countercultural boom.
Though as J hooks up with late-60’s K (Josh Brolin, putting on an impressive Tommy Lee Jones face), the narrative begins to gain slack as the pair embark on a repetitive catch-and-release with Boris.
While the the driving narrative of “Men in Black III” is somewhat fitting, it’s also somewhat slacking, especially in its hokey, emotional third-act twist.
Luckily, the film is filled with enough trademark dry wit, visual puns (the literal act of jumping through time by jumping from a large building is particularly endearing), and a cast of fantastic character actors who are at the top of their game to keep me delightfully entertained throughout.
Brolin turns in a solid performance with his sour-yet-still-naive portrayal as the younger K, as does Jemaine Clement as the gruff, biker gang-esque baddie, but the real show-stealer is Michael Stuhlberg as the neurotic alien Griffin, whose ability to see an infinite multitude of possible outcomes for the future provide for some of the film’s best gags.
Thrown into the mix of summer blockbuster season fairly early, it’s likely that “Men in Black III” will be neuralized from your memory come August, as it’s destined to meld together with everything else released under the giant, bat-and-spider-shaped shadow that looms over the multiplexes in the coming months.
But for now, it stands as a welcomed and entertaining chapter in the “Men in Black” franchise. And that’s all we could ever ask for after the atrocious “Men in Black II”, which I wish would be neuralized from my memory.
Overall Grade: B
Men In Black III opens today in theaters everywhere, click here for theaters and showtimes.