Ten years between sequels is almost too long for a franchise to stay relevant, but “Men In Black 3” turns out to be worth the wait. While it doesn’t quite reach the inventive heights of the original, it is easily better than the last movie which didn’t stay in the audiences’ collective consciousness for that long. This movie has a good dose of humor, excellent casting, and is more emotional an experience than anyone can expect.
Will Smith, starring in his first movie after three and a half years, and Tommy Lee Jones return as MIB Agents J and K, and their relationship is as cantankerous as ever. This time they are pursuing an intergalactic criminal named Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) who has escaped from a prison on the moon and prefers to be called “just Boris.”
But while in pursuit, Agent K suddenly disappears and no one seems to remember J having him as a partner. The new boss, Agent O (Emma Thompson), informs J that K has been dead for forty years, and she deduces from J’s refusal to believe (as well as his sudden thirst for chocolate milk) that there has been a fracture in the space time continuum. This leads J to discover that Boris has traveled back and time and murdered his partner in 1969. Upon being made aware that time travel does exist (and has long since been rendered illegal), J ends up going back in time to save his partner and help him do what he should have done years ago: kill Boris.
Time travel has always been a tricky plot device in science fiction movies, and it hasn’t always been used well. But it gives “Men In Black 3” an edge as we have come to know these characters over the course of a few films, the first which came out in 1997. Seeing Will Smith get transported back to 1969 gives the movie endless possibilities and story lines to follow, and director Barry Sonnenfeld explores as many as he can.
At 106 minutes long, “Men In Black 3” is the longest movie in this franchise and certainly feels like it too. The previous entries had a more economical running time and went by quickly, but this one takes its sweet time getting started as there is a good deal of exposition for Smith to go through before he goes back to the past. But once he does, this sequel really hits its stride as he gets to be a fish out of water in a time that was not always kind to black people.
Smith is still great fun to watch as Agent J, constantly improvising terrific one-liners as he explains to people why an enormous fish broke out of a Chinese restaurant (his explanation for that is classic). His boundless energy people know him best for is still very much intact as he deals with a situation that in any other case would be unbelievable. But Smith is smart as he doesn’t play everything for laughs as certain revelations about his character come to light which forever change his perception of his relationship to Jones.
Agent K as a character has always presented Jones with welcome opportunities to have fun with the straight laced persona he is best known for playing in movies like “The Fugitive.” What’s great about his performance in this sequel is how he shows the deep sadness which lingers in those eyes of K’s even while his line delivery never betrays any sort of emotion. While his appearance in “Men In Black 3” can be considered a cameo, his presence is always felt even when he is not onscreen.
But the best thing about “Men In Black 3” is Josh Brolin who gives an inspired performance as the younger version of Agent K. He nails all of Jones’ mannerisms perfectly and makes the character his own. Like Jones, Brolin gives off some of the most wonderfully dry expressions and reactions that have made this character so much fun to watch from one movie to the next. He also has terrific chemistry with Smith who plays off him as effectively as he does with Jones.
Some of the newest members to the “Men In Black” franchise include Emma Thompson as Agent O who steps in as the leader of MIB after the death of Zed (Rip Torn who played the character in the two previous MIB movies). Thompson has a brilliant moment where she has to speak in a ridiculous sounding voice, and seeing her do it with a straight face is a wonderful reminder of how brilliant an actress she is.
Bill Hader from “Saturday Night Live” also shows up here as Andy Warhol who turns out to be another MIB agent who is tired of being all artistic and stuff. It’s a small role but Hader makes the most of it and he is a delight to watch as always. Alice Eve is as delectable as can be as the younger version of Agent O, and she makes the audience want her to get it on with K just so he can loosen up.
As “Men In Black 3’s” main antagonist, Jermaine Clement (best known for “Flight Of The Conchords”) is terrific as an inherently dangerous alien whose main flaw is taking his nickname of Boris the Animal a little too seriously. While he doesn’t quite compare to Vincent D’Onofrio’s bug alien from the first movie, he is easily an improvement over Lara Flynn Boyle’s character from “Men In Black II” which never left much of an aftertaste. Clement infuses Boris with a dark sense of humor which keeps him from becoming like any other alien the MIB Agents have fought previously.
Sonnenfeld fills the screen with a lot of visual gags that will make you want to see “Men In Black 3” more than once. The passing of time between sequels has given planet Earth a whole new set of aliens that include Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. When it comes to going back to the 60’s, he never goes for the obvious gag. He also makes better use of man’s mission to the moon than Michael Bay ever did in “Transformers: Dark Of The Moon.”
But what makes this sequel work so well is how deep it gets into the relationship between Agents J and K to where the audience comes to realize how much of a part they play in each other’s lives. For fans who have watched Smith and Jones from the beginning, seeing their relationship get defined in a whole other way makes for an especially fulfilling cinematic experience. That’s especially commendable for a movie which started shooting without a finished screenplay.
“Men In Black 3” shouldn’t work as well as it does since it’s the third movie in a franchise, and that usually means that the filmmakers will be at a loss to bring anything new to the series. But while it might seem best relegated to the 1990’s where it started, there is still enough energy and creative at work in this movie series to keep things going for another sequel. After watching this, a “Men In Black 4” does feel like a welcome possibility.