I probably wasn’t the only one not that excited about “Men In Black 3.” The 1997 original was revered, but its 2002 sequel was loathed so much that it took a decade to get the team – actors Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones and Director Barry Sonnenfield — to suit up for another installment.
Good thing they did as “Men In Black 3” marks one of the most surprisingly enjoyable, fun films I’ve seen so far this year.
Like an old pair of shoes you know you should throw out, but they’re too comfortable to toss, Will Smith (“Seven Pounds”) and Tommy Lee Jones (“Captain America: The First Avenger”) easily recapture their chemistry from the previous installments as intergalactic peacekeepers Agents J and K tasked with keeping Earth safe from evil alien menaces. They’re back to their same tricks of bickering like an old married couple, disintegrating evil aliens and making any witnesses forget what they’ve seen thanks to a memory eraser.
The film feels a bit too comfortable though — as if the characters haven’t changed at all in the decade since we’ve last seen them — even down to the same old arguments and Agent J cracking on Agent K’s lack of emotion. Besides the terribly underused Emma Thompson replacing Rip Torn as the head of MIB, there’s little to indicate this is an older, wiser MIB. It’s odd that the film doesn’t get interesting until Jones’ K gets put on the shelf.
One of Agent K’s old adversaries, Boris the Animal, (“Dinner for Schmuck’s” Jermaine Clement with a lion’s mane of hair and solid black orbs for eyes) escapes from his lunar prison and successfully uses a time travel device to kill Agent K in 1960. Agent K’s death has a ripple effect on the future such as a defense grid that would have prevented Boris’ race from conquering Earth. That future is now in jeopardy as no one but Agent J remembers how Agent K saved the world. With the aid of another time traveling device, Agent J goes back to 1960 a day before Boris arrives in order to save Agent K and everyone’s future.
Despite five credited screenwriters, the plot is simple enough to follow – not always an easy feat for anything involving time travel. While not every joke works, the hit percentage is enough to warrant some big laughs such as Agent J encountering some racist cops or the running gag on how Boris would prefer to be addressed. It may be a patchwork script, but it’s entertaining.
Agent J’s plans go slightly awry when he encounters young Agent K (Josh Brolin, “True Grit”), who isn’t sure what to make of his fast-talking future partner.
Like he did in 2008’s “W,” where he channeled George W. Bush, Brolin masterfully captures Jones’ mannerisms without just doing a bad Tommy Lee Jones impersonation.
Smith and Brolin make for an inspired pairing — Smith easily finds the same chemistry with Brolin he enjoys with Jones — and the new dynamic gives the franchise a fresh direction that makes you wonder why they didn’t try this idea out sooner. Agent J learns that his partner wasn’t always the grim, emotionless partner he’s come to know and, at times, love and eventually learns what changed him in a surprisingly tender moment for a sci-fi/comedy.
Sonnenfield opts not to overwhelm the film with aliens, so those that are running around in the 1960s era seem all the more bizarre, including Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg, “Hugo”) who sees the various potential outcomes in every situation. Another funny gag has the agents encountering a group of models and Andy Warhol (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s” Bill Hader in another of his awesome cameos).
The retro MIB is so much fun that I almost wish Agent J didn’t have to complete his mission and could hang out with his old, younger partner a little longer. That’s how you’re likely to feel with “Men In Black 3” — a nice throwback to the original and a fun film in its own right.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10