Given the slew of remakes, sequels and reboots we have witnessed thrown onto our screens over the last few years, some of which perhaps didn’t even deserve the light of day in the first instance, it wasn’t much of a stretch to consider returning Men In Black to cinemas. The popular 1997 take on the much darker (and arguably more interesting) comic was instantly a big hit, and proved to be a substantial box office success.
As is Hollywood law, therefore, a sequel followed, but as you probably well know, this is where things went wrong. Savaged, and with good reason, for its lack and ambition and basic adherence to the Police Academy template of sequel making, it still made lots of money, but it dampened many’s enthusiasm to see the franchise back.
Unsurprisingly, the Men In Black seemed to have been retired.
That was until someone realised that Will Smith was almost certainly suffering from ‘Jim Carrey Syndrome’. Namely, an actor with great comedy talent and success goes on to prove their acting worth, and then takes it perhaps one step far. Ask anyone who sat through Seven Pounds. A return to comedy roots beckoned.
Thus, Men In Black 3. It’s a blockbuster comeback vehicle for Smith (his first big summer film since Hancock), and a movie that also brings back Barry Sonnenfeld behind the camera.
Given that it’s been 15 years since the release of the first chapter of the series, still not much has really changed. Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K continues to throw out witty criticisms involving the words “slick” and “son”, and Smith’s Agent J digs deep to find variations of the wittiest replies he can think of to bring the laughs.
However, their mutual admiration for each other, which has nearly become a familial dependence, is shaken by the escape of the universe’s most notorious alien, Boris the Animal (the mighty Jemaine Clement), from a fortified structure on the moon. Unfortunately for J, K was the one who imprisoned him there, while simultaneously managing to deprive him of his left arm. The plot, then, tells us that Boris has sworn revenge and returns to Earth with the intent of finding an inventor of time-travel so he can return to the past, kill K and ensure his race will destroy the planet. A fairly straightforward blockbuster plot to some degree, which inevitably leads to K disappearing, and J heading back to the 1960s to try and find him. That much is all in the trailers.
What isn’t is Men In Black 3‘s habit of firing off in many different directions, struggling to commit to its main narrative. It does, to the credit of those in front of the camera especially, hold together, but there’s evidently some truth to the widely-reported script problems.
Emphasis on plot, though, has never been a pre-requisite for watching any of the series. In fact, some of the best moments take place in the background. There’s real fun to be had with Smith’s encounters with aliens, and in trying to spot which celebrities are considered literally out of this world (Lady Gaga makes a welcome appearance on one of the MiB screens). The humour and its little in-jokes are what has always held things together, and they have the same effect here.
The attempt to recreate an accurate depiction of the 1960s, almost something of a trend at the moment, pays off, too. Some of the finest encounters Agent J has onscreen are firmly in the MiB past. This does come at the cost of screen time for Tommy Lee Jones, though, whose return is far briefer than the posters may have you believe.
In return, we get Emma Thompson, on fine form as always, and Josh Brolin, as the 1960s version of Agent K. And it’s Brolin that’s worth buying the ticket for. He’s the real show-stealer here, note perfect as the younger Agent K. If you closed your eyes and listened you could be convinced you were listening to Tommy Lee Jones. Exhibiting a softer side of the character, Brolin is both charming and hilarious, a role he rarely, if ever, gets to play. And although Men In Black 3 could easily be Smith’s ride, he refuses to be walked over.
It’s a film, then, that’s hardly going to change anyone’s life, nor does it have copious surprises up its sleeve. But it works. It’s enjoyable to watch, and a solid improvement on Men In Black 2. Men In Black 4 might be pushing it, though…
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