In Men in Black III, Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are back… in time. J has seen some inexplicable things in his 15 years with the Men in Black, but nothing, not even aliens, perplexes him as much as his wry, reticent partner. But when K’s life and the fate of the planet are put at stake, Agent J will have to travel back in time to put things right. J discovers that there are secrets to the universe that K never told him — secrets that will reveal themselves as he teams up with the young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to save his partner, the agency, and the future of humankind.
When I first heard that another Men in Black movie was going to happen I was cautiously optimistic as I had really enjoyed the first one, but the second one didn’t fare as well. Then I heard the rumors of shooting without a completed script, the over-sized trailers, and the break in filming deliberately scheduled to allow them to finish the script and that optimism turned to concern. With each movie, Will Smith has become a bigger superstar and that status has allowed him more clout and screen time each go around. For Men in Black III, Smith reportedly came up with the story for it as well as hand-picked Etan Cohen to write the script. That sounds like a recipe for a vanity project, but I’m happy to report that while Men in Black III has some minor issues, it’s far from the train-wreck it could have been and a lot better than the second one. Once again the movie’s main draw is the chemistry and charm of its leads – Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and this time by Josh Brolin who appears in this as a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones’ character K.
The movie opens in a prison facility on the moon where the alien assassin known as “”Boris the Animal” (Jemaine Clement) is imprisoned thanks to K (Tommy Lee Jones) who not only stopped his attempt to overrun the Earth in 1969, but also shot off Boris’ arm in the process. It’s not long before Boris makes a prison break and starts his plan to go back into time to kill K and succeed where he had failed before. While investigating another alien related food poisoning case, J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) run into Boris (who was there to eat his favorite dish) and he taunts K with the knowledge that he was dead and didn’t even know it. K, who had been reacting strangely beforehand, gets more and more agitated and suspends J after they argue about going after Boris.
For J, his affection for K (which seems to not be reciprocated by K) is tempered by his frustration with the stoic K’s demeanor. After working together for fourteen years, he still doesn’t fully understand his taciturn partner and K doesn’t seem inclined to be more forthcoming about his feelings or his past. When K calls J on the phone to try to make amends, both men find it difficult to cross the divide between them and J hangs up on K when neither has anything to say. It’s not long after that, that K disappears after being erased from the existing timeline thanks to Boris changing the past. The next day, J goes to work only to find out that everyone believes K was killed in the line of duty forty years earlier in an attempt to stop Boris and that he is the only one who remembers K surviving. J convinces the new head of the Men in Black, Agent O (Emma Thompson), who has replaced Rip Torn’s recently deceased Zed (Zed’s dead baby), that he can fix the timeline by returning to 1969 to protect K.
In a bravura special effects sequence that combines some cool imagery with a dose of dark humor, J initiates his time jump back into the past by jumping off the Empire State Building. As he races to the ground below, we see time shifting around him as he drops, complete with dinosaurs and other jumpers thanks to the Great Depression’s stock-market crash. Safely arriving in 1969, J races to Coney Island where Boris made his first kill before his eventual showdown with K at Cape Canaveral. J is too late and is caught at the scene of the crime by a much younger K (Josh Brolin) who takes him into custody.
As a younger man, K is a lot more personable and open to conversation which delights J to no end. After a funny bit with an over-sized neuralizer, they team up to stop Boris from taking over the Earth by restoring the timeline. J knows that K was able to stop Boris by activating a device that shielded the Earth from Boris’ fellow alien spaceships. The only problem is that he has no idea how K did it or how K was able to take Boris into custody. In addition, he is also intent on protecting K from getting killed by the time traveling alien so he has a lot to deal with. The ending which has the Apollo 11 launch as it’s backdrop is exciting and fun and showcases the unlikely friendship between agents J and K and just how far they would go for each other.
There’s a lot of humor to be mined by this trip back in time, as J not only has to deal with the lack of technology that he’s grown dependent on as well as the difference in racial relations between 1969 and 2012. The film offers some social commentary but it’s all done with good-natured humor and Smith’s charm. Another bright light in the film is Josh Brolin as the 60s version of K who perfectly captures Tommy Lee Jones’ mannerisms and speech. After his excellent portrayal of George W. Bush in W., it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Brolin is a talented impersonator, but he really nails it this time. He captures the older man’s quirks while providing some welcome insight into how K was and what he will become.
Will Smith is back in one of his signature roles and it still makes it look effortless and fun. It’s nice to see him in this kind of a role again after his recent string of dour movies. His effervescent charm and humor are always contagious and this movie reminds you how he became a movie star in the first place. Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t have a lot of screen time this go around, but when he is onscreen he makes the most of it. Jones’ trademark deadpan humor and gravitas is still in effect and it was good to see his chemistry with Smith return. By the end of the film, their relationship is deepened even further by what happens and it was nice to see the film offer a touching scene between them that shows how their relationship has evolved.
Clement does a decent job as the film’s villain Boris who seems to be more of a throwback to Vincent D’Onofrio’s Edgar from the first film than Lara Flynn Boyle’s turn in the second, but the scipt lacks the same humor that made Edgar so fun to watch. Boris looks and sounds great but is saddled with terrible one-liners like “Let’s agree to disagree,” that’s repeated over and over to the same lack of effect. Overall, Men in Black III is a fun summer movie that makes up for the second film’s mistakes, but doesn’t quite rise up to the original film’s creativity and humor. That being said, I did enjoy the film and the cast and I would be happy to see a fourth outing although this film didn’t really set up any future installments. As a side not, I was surprised that for the first time in the series, there wasn’t a post credit scene either.
Men in Black 3 tickets on sale now!