There’s an old saying that when you’re at rock bottom you can only go up. That certainly describes the MIB series after the hugely disappointing sequel from 2002. Even after a decade, that film still leaves a bitter taste. However, at G-S-T we always root for a redeeming sequel. Did we get one? Well almost, but again, anything would fare better than MIB 2. What’s most enjoyable is that this film, and series really, is so familiar that it’s almost like no time has passed since we saw Agents J and K save the Earth for the first time way back in 1997.
Here come the Men In Black *clap clap* and Agents J and K are back…again. The baddie de jour/universe’s most notorious assassin Boris the Animal (played by Jemaine Clement) has escaped the most secure prison in the galaxy – Lunar-Max. 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. Even after 14 years with the MIB J (Will Smith) discovers that he has a lot to learn as there are secrets to the universe that K (Tommy Lee Jones) never told him. To save his partner, the agency and the Earth, J teams up with the young Agent K for a wild trip back in time to save K, preserve the past and protect our future.
Again it’s hard to get any worse that MIB 2, and while the trailers looked promising, this installment had this lukewarm feeling that only moderately improved over the run-time. It is fun ride but it might leave even the most avid MIB fan feeling a little flat. While it seems wrong to hold one film to the standards of another, let alone one from the same series, there needs to be a standard established that is consistent. Admittedly that’s tough to do across films, especially when a follow-up film spans a decade or more. On one hand we have characters we love doing what they do best; protecting us from the worst scum of the universe. Sure they look good doing it, but there’s a lack of conviction that just doesn’t help them fill out their signature black suits.
In order to properly evaluate this it’s best to take nostalgia out of the equation. More to the point, pretend that neither MIB or MIB II exist. Can you get in on the story without knowing the about J and K? Well it would help but as far as saving the world, much like films in the James Bond series, it’s just the 9 to 5 for our heroes so while the first MIB had a nice origin story for J, that (and the still delightful tone setting intro) is the only real heart-felt/endearing part of the duo’s dynamic. Everything is just I’m more experienced than you, do it this way Tommy Lee Jones condescension. Rinse and repeat. J will always be loud and opinionated and K will be a stone-faced old timer. That’s not exactly what the kind of consistency mentioned above. As such, the old married couple bit between J and K feels old, tired and starts to get old fast. However, and this may be hidden brilliance in MIB 3, maybe that’s the point as this film is about J finding out why K is old and crotchety.
On a good note, what really makes this film is the new blood, specifically the standout acting from Josh Brolin playing the young, but still noting impresses me youngun agent K. His delivery is spot-on and before you’re even sad to see Tommy Lee disappear from the film (for a while) you’ll soon be endeared to Brolin’s performance. It is one-note but that’s the point. Part of the fun is seeing Brolin try to out Lee good old Tommy Lee Jones. On the flip side though, As far as other new editions, what should have been an inspired and brilliant casting choice for the film’s heavy (Flight of the Conchords alum Jemaine Clement) is utterly wasted talent. Not only is his character entirely ludicrous and non-threatening, but his lines are so bad (as in mustache twirly and one-dimensional) they’re laughable. Now MIB isn’t know to have truly gruesome and deadly aliens like The Thing, but while Boris could have been fun, he ends up being annoying. It also doesn’t help that the juvenile humor runs rampant but then again MIB I and II had similar levels so it’s par for the course.
We shouldn’t let nostalgia for the first MIB tell us that we like this particular story. Sure we may enjoy seeing these characters on screen but it doesn’t mean we should suffer a terrible story. And truthfully it’s not terrible, the time travel is a nice touch (though it’s the flavor of the decade thanks largely to Mad Men) but it’s done artfully, fun and similar to the idea (just the idea mind you) of the last Transformers movie, make this spin on history really quite brilliant. Also the fish-out-of-water way that J deals with the mindset/culture of the 60’s, as well as the laughably outdated (and over-sized) technology is really quite funny. Then again, for all the good there’s a 1:1 ratio that finds the events end up happening way too fast and with the CG-pallooza, there’s no build up and worse there’s nothing at stake. At the end of the day, strong points do go to the acting which, funny enough, could stand in a film outside the MIB universe. It’s be really great to see Smith/Brolin in something else.
Pessimism aside this is geared for all ages so there’s going to be some groan worthy elements no matter the age/taste of the viewer. Also, it’s always going to be tough for a supposed “summer popcorn flick” to appeal to the four different audience types. Still it’s a moderately fun romp that starts slow and has a pretty good (and highly unexpected) ending. There’s good laughs and a more than mediocre time at the cinema. The fact that it’s light years better than MIB 2 should make this look like Casablanca by comparison, replete with a nice heart-swelling ending. Goofy plots aside and even if everything tied up before you realized it was a plot device, it’s good way to finish what they started. So put on your 3D shades and relax, because here come the Men in Black *clap clap*