Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones have suited up once again for Men in Black III, director Barry Sonnenfeld’s third installment of the fifteen-year-old science fiction film franchise. After the lukewarm fan response to MIB II and various reports of a plagued production (Etan Cohen’s script, based on a concept Smith came up with himself, underwent extensive rewrites mid-shoot), it seemed that the newest chapter in the series was doomed to suffer from the dreaded “second sequel” syndrome. Thus, it comes as somewhat as a surprise that Men in Black III is not the high budgeted mess that so many anticipated.
The picture opens in the modern day with Boris “The Animal” (Flight of the Concords Jermaine Clement) — a sinister alien with venomous insect-like features — breaking out from a maximum security moon prison. He vows vengeance on his captor, Agent K (Jones), and time travels to 1969 with the intent of killing the younger K (a scene-stealing Josh Brolin). Of course, it’s all up to the smooth-talking Agent J (Smith) to prevent this catastrophic reversal of history.
While Smith brings his usual charisma to the screen as Agent J, a number of his one-liners feel forced and fall flat. The character simply isn’t as fresh or funny as he was in the original MIB. Smith is ultimately overshadowed by Josh Brolin’s young Agent K. Brolin truly does a spot-on impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones, his No Country for Old Men costar. The actor’s welcoming presence makes up for Jones’ absence for much of the film as K senior isn’t given much screen time.
The humanoid Boris, Sonnenfeld’s villain this time around, is a technical marvel but merely comes off as a watered down version of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Edgar, the unforgettable antagonist of the first film. British great Emma Thompson has a humorous supporting part as Agent M, MIB’s new chief of operations, but her role is disappointingly minimal.
Although the time travel plot is relentlessly contrived, MIB 3 is a visual treat. Fans of the series will not be disappointed by the film’s onslaught of colorful space creatures and flashy gadgets. The special effects are even better when viewed in 3D. Men in Black III was shot in 3D and (unlike many recent blockbusters) truly benefits from the added extra dimension. A scene, in which J travels back in time by diving off the top of the Empire State Building is awe inducing as are the various instances of alien thugs getting vaporized into goo.
For the most part, the film stays true to its overtly silly tone but takes an unnecessary sentimental turn at the end that will likely polarize audiences. All of its faults aside, MIB III is an amusing, turn-your-brain-off diversion fit for a Saturday matinee. Sonnenfeld's second sequel may not be anywhere nearly as clever as the first Men in Black, but there is no denying that the series' third outing could have turned out far worse.