Film Review – Men In Black III
About fifteen years after the original Men In Black came out, and a full ten years since its first sequel was released, along comes Men In Black III. Starring the still-charismatic Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in stone-faced grump mode, the new film deals with a new alien threat in the guise of Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame as Boris the Animal. Boris is a villain who has been in prison on the moon for the past 40 years. Possessing only one arm, he lost the other one when he was caught by Jones’s character, K, back in 1969. Breaking out of prison, he hatches a plan to steal a special device that will allow him to travel back in time and kill a younger version of K before he originally got arrested. When this plan unfolds, Smith’s Agent J must go back in time himself to stop the evil alien. Hijinks ensue.
For full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the first MIB film. It is quick, inventive, slightly profound, and genuinely a lot of fun. The makeup and special effects are convincing. Vincent D’Onofrio as the giant cockroach wearing an Edgar suit provides many fun physical comedy moments. And that movie has a couple of quotes that continuously resonate with me. The first is when K newly reveals what the Men In Black are about. As Will Smith’s character is letting it all sink in on a New York park bench, Tommy Lee Jones explains: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals…1500 years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat. And 15 minutes ago, you knew that people were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.” The other is that lightly moving moment at the end when K explains that being inside an exploding cockroach is one of a hundred memories “…I don’t want.” Jones puts such weight on that one word, “want.” It’s really fine acting being able to convey a lifetime of world weariness in one word. It’s economic and subtle.
Meanwhile, Men in Black II was underwhelming. I’ve heard a great many people actively hate it. Hate seems too strong. Hate takes effort. Half the time I forget about it entirely. It’s not without the occasional laugh. Patrick Warburton as J’s new partner is mildly funny (though what the hell happened to Linda Fiorentino from the first film?). Rosario Dawson isn’t terrible in it. And you get more of the cute little pug. But largely I give it the same headspace I give Ghostbusters 2. Ghostbusters was great. Its sequel, not so much. Same thing here.
That all said, in the grand hierarchy, Men In Black III is better than the second one, nowhere near as good as the first. The incredibly talented Josh Brolin does a dead-on Tommy Lee Jones imitation as he plays the younger version of K. He’s deadpan at first, but tends to lighten up the more J is around him. Some of the culture shock moments are funny, though I wish there were more of them. At one point, Will Smith’s character gets pulled over by the police for driving too nice a car while being black. While funny, it ends up being more of an idea for a bit than a fully realized moment. The best scene involves the agents searching for a clue at Andy Warhol’s Factory. Bill Hader as Warhol is quite hilarious. And this is where they are joined by Griffin, an all-seeing alien who can view multiple timelines at once. Michael Stuhlbarg (probably best known as the star of the Coen brothers film A Serious Man) plays Griffin as some sort of Robin Williams in full-blown whimsy mode. I found him interesting and irritating at the same time.
What is probably most surprisingly disappointing here is the special effects. The Men In Black series has always had very convincing effects. But this time around, they all look like way too much CGI. Everything looks digital and processed. At one point, Will Smith is on the roof of the Chrysler Building while an alien invasion is taking place in the sky. Instead of feeling realistic, it all looks like so much video game fodder. It’s like they took the Fresh Prince and dropped him into Mass Effect 3. The same goes for the 3D. Very little of this film is truly enhanced by the 3D effect. Boris the Animal frequently shoots tiny alien darts from his hand that are supposed to shoot out at you in a gimmicky way. And there is one fight scene that purposely has camera angles aimed straight at the audience. But the gimmick doesn’t help much.
Overall, Men In Black III is a slightly pleasant diversion. Surely it will be a big rental hit on its inevitable home video release. The actors are still fun people with whom to spend time. The script is mildly engaging. If you must see this in the theater, try to find some matinee pricing somewhere. Mildly recommended.
Final Grade: B-