“They’re making another one?”
That was the entirely appropriate reaction heard round the world when it was announced that Will Smith’s triumphant return to cinema after a four year absence would be…another Men in Black sequel.
As it turns out, the old films made quite a bit of cash a while back, $590M and $440M respectively. The first cemented Smith as a box office draw while the next? Well, we try not to think about that one.
But in 2012, someone deemed that audiences might want a break from superheroes and toy-based movies, and you know what? They were right.
Men in Black manages to be a decently good popcorn flick between Will Smith’s charisma, Josh Brolin’s uncanny Tommy Lee Jones impression and a plot that is actually leagues better than one you’d expect from a movie like this.
It’s also convinced me that if we ever need an American James Bond-style film series, Brolin should star. Look at him!
Still partners after all these years, Agent Jay (Smith) is as determined as ever to figure out what makes Agent Kay (Jones) such a grump all the time. Unfortunately there’s little time for camaraderie after a Bogladorian criminal named Boris (Jemaine Clement) escapes from an MIB jail on the moon. He’s an old foe of Kay’s, and manages to acquire the power to time travel and go back and kill the agent that took his arm and put him behind bars.
When he’s successful, Agent Kay is erased from history entirely for everyone except Jay, who holds onto his memories and is determined to go back to 1969 to save Kay from his death at the hands of two Borises. When he arrives, he meets a young, borderline cheerful Agent Kay (Josh Brolin), and the two must pair up to stop Kay’s coming death, and also, unsurprisingly, the end of the world which will occur if he ceases to exist.
A Men in Black sequel using time travel as a plot device does not seem like it would yield a quality result. Time travel plots are notoriously complicated, confusing and full of holes, but somehow, some way, Men in Black 3 makes theirs work. Perhaps it’s the effortless charm of Smith, who can make even terrible movies watchable just by being there. Or maybe it’s the inclusion of a very interesting “fifth dimensional” character (Michael Stuhlbarg) who can see all possible futures at once. Or maybe someone just figured out how to write a good script.
Why yes, that IS the Hiphopopotamus himself.
The key to the film’s success is that there’s always a mystery driving the central plot forward. We’re trying to find out many things, like how exactly Kay will die, what happened to him on that day that changed him forever, and why Agent Jay didn’t lose memories of his partner when everyone else did.
It’s also refreshing that the film doesn’t get lost in its sideshow aliens like the last two did. Yes, there’s a scene where an alien’s tiny head is used as a bowling ball, but other than that, the film steers clear of goofy extraterrestrial slapstick most of the time. It also steers clear of comedy, as the film isn’t particularly funny past one or two lines, but it’s forgivable because of the otherwise engrossing plot. The one hilarious moment comes from Bill Hader, an MIB agent whose cover is being Andy Warhol in the ’60s. “You have to get me out of here,” he says at a party attended by fashionable alien models. “I’m so out of ideas I’m painting crap like soup cans!”
You will understand why time travel had to be in play for this film when you see that Tommy Lee Jones is now no less than 10,000 years old, and can almost be seen checking his watch on set. Rather, past-Kay, Josh Brolin steals the show with his uncanny impression of the older actor, and he’s so good we can even ignore the fact that the two actors are only 20 years apart in age, not 50. The film even explains that away with a wink to the camera and a line about the young Kay having “city miles” on him when he claims to be 29. It’s details like this that let MIB3 not take itself seriously in the least, and still be an effective, entertaining film.
Bad Boys 4 life.
It’s a stupidly fun film with an oddly smart plot. The grand mysteries are revealed in a way that actually makes sense, and great performances from Brolin, Smith and Clement make the film more than just a reheated dish of what we’ve seen already from the series.
3.5 out of 5 stars