Men in Black 3 Review
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones saddle up together for a third time in Men in Black 3, a sequel that feels like it was made five years too late and everyone turned up to make it just so they could get it over with and cross it off their To Do lists. A sense of tiredness permeates this belated threequel as it struggles to deliver big laughs or re-establish the quick-fire chemistry between its two stars. Yet, with that caveat out of the way, there is still some fun to be had – a time-twisting plot and new supporting characters do go some way to freshening things up - but anyone hoping for a rejuvenated franchise will come away somewhat disappointed.
It’s been a decade since we last saw the MIBs, but very little has changed in the intervening years. Agents J (Smith) and K (Jones) are still protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe, but K is even more down in the dumps than usual since the death of their boss, Z (poor old Rip Torn written out of the series without so much as a flashback cameo). Meanwhile, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), a particularly nasty alien who has spent the last forty years in a top secret prison on the moon, escapes to Earth and hitches a ride back in time to 1969, the year he was caught by a much younger K (Josh Brolin), with the intention of killing his captor. New boss O (Emma Thompson) sends J back in time to stop Boris and restore the timeline before Boris’ friends arrive to destroy the Earth.
With Tommy Lee Jones either unable or unwilling to take on full time co-starring duties for another entry (he certainly looks his age, poor chap), and the filmmakers evidently unwilling to take a chance on a new partner for J, a trip back to the past was pretty much the only way to go. It feels like a desperate move, and that it works at all is down to the casting of Brolin, who nails the younger Agent K so precisely it’s uncanny. Pulling the time travel lever is usually a sign of creative fatigue in Hollywood franchises (hello, Star Trek), and MIB3 is no different. It offers an opportunity to freshen up the central characters by placing them in unfamiliar surroundings, but there is also the temptation to recycle stories and gags from previous entries while winking at the audience.
Happily, MIB3 largely avoids these potholes. Jones sleepwalks through his extended cameo appearance at the beginning of the film and Smith appears to be equally unenthused, which leaves MIB3 in danger of flatlining during the first act. But it doesn’t take long for Brolin to step up to the plate and give the film the kick it desperately needs to get going. With a partner to bounce off, Smith musters some of his energy of old and the two do enough to keep the film afloat. The Swinging Sixties setting offers up some predictable but nevertheless amusing laughs (Smith’s skin colour not going over too well with the cops of the period).
Given the production rumours about filming having started without a finished script, it’s to screenwriter Etan Cohen’s credit that the film’s convoluted timey-wimey plot more or less hangs together (if you’re willing to forgive the occasional verbal sticking plaster). A few Douglas Adams-esque touches work quite nicely too, such as Michael Stuhlbarg’s alien character who lives in parallel universes simultaneously. The story inevitably finds its way to the Apollo 11 launch in Florida, and a high altitude climax – though you do have to wonder why Boris is such a terrible shot.
Yet even though it ticks most of the boxes expected of it, there remains a sluggishness to Barry Sonnenfeld’s film that diminishes the thrills it tries to whip up. Simply put, it’s not nearly as fun as it thinks it is; this is a series running on empty, content to cruise in neutral for as long and far as it can.