Jacob Tilley reviews Barry Sonnenfeld’s third instalment of the trilogy, Men in Black 3.
Fifteen years after they first hit our screens, Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are back as Agents K and J, the emotionless, know-it-all veteran agent and the wise-cracking, street-wise former LAPD cop in Men In Black 3.
Going in, there was the question over which of its predecessors the third instalment of the adaptation of Lowell Cunningham’s The Men In Black comic book series was going to take after. Would it be the wit, intelligence and freshness of the 1997 original, or the not-so-witty, not-so-intelligent, not-so-fresh, much-maligned 2002 sequel? The answer to this question lies somewhere in the middle.
The plot sees Flight of the Conchords’ Jermaine Clement as Boris the Animal, a one-armed Boglodite who escapes from the moon prison where he’s been for the last forty years. Boris travels back in time to 1969 to murder the young Agent K who captured him. The problem is that because it’s Agent K, the result of his death doesn’t simply affect his family and a few close friends, but plunges the world into impending doom. So Agent J has little choice but to follow Boris into the past and try to foil his assassination attempt.
Back in 1969 and on the verge of foiling Boris’ plans, J is thwarted by the younger version of K. The two men then have to work together to stop the two Boris’ who have now teamed up and J struggles to recognise the open, friendly version of the uptight, emotionless man that he knows in the future.
Smith and Jones obviously reprise their roles as the main protagonists but little else can be said of their performances as Smith visibly struggles to adapt back to the type of smart-alecy, wise-ass character he used to play before he became a megastar and went Oscar hunting in The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds, while Jones gives an unspectacular performance in the brief screen time that he gets.
Clement is excellent as the vicious, maniacal Boris, and seems to borrow Tim Currie’s vocal chords for the duration of the movie to give his character an eerily creepy yet somehow rather amusing feel.
But the real star of the show is Brolin who effortlessly slips into the role of the younger K, hitting all the marks laid down by Tommy Lee Jones in the previous two films: unimpressed stare, quippy one-liners, lazy southern drawl, whilst adding a more relaxed, open and humorous layer to an already well-established character. Brolin is by far the best thing in the film and gives a reminder of how compelling Tommy Lee Jones’ surly-but-smooth act can be when done properly. He makes it feel like 1997 all over again.
The absence of the always entertaining Rip Torn as director Z was somewhat disappointing. As great an actress as Emma Thompson is she doesn’t have any moments to match the curmudgeonly, gravelly-voiced director’s ‘We are the Men in Black’ speech or ‘the last suit you’ll ever wear’ line and his presence is missed.
But what has always been refreshing about the Men In Black series is that, as well as the clichéd, slimy, invertebrate-style aliens that crop up there always seems to be an alien of some originality and in this film it’s the inclusion of Griffin, a mild-mannered, panicky alien who simultaneously sees the potential happenings of five dimensions, never knowing which one is going to become the actual reality.
And it’s these little flashes of originality and class throughout that make this third outing a very enjoyable, watchable film. Men In Black 3 isn’t going to result in an Oscar landing on Will Smith’s mantelpiece anytime soon but it is an entertaining film with some great performances from Clements and Brolin, some excellent action sequences and more than a few funny moments.