From the moment Men in Black 3 started, I immediately felt like I was watching a relic from a bygone era; a movie that would’ve been a huge blockbuster in the days of the Lilith Fair and glittery Puff Daddy videos, but now seemed quaint and moldy next to bar-raising, budget-busting spectacles like The Avengers. There’s just something about director Barry Sonnenfeld’s style here that screamed 1990′s cinema, and though the first Men In Black was released only 15 years ago, it might as well have been 115 years. The whole thing simply felt out-of-place in today’s cinematic climate.
Luckily, Will Smith’s Agent J is still very charismatic and charming, and his chemistry with the perennially surly Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K (and Josh Brolin as the younger Agent K) melted away enough of my cynicism to allow me to settle into Summer popcorn entertainment mode, and enjoy the breezy, airy, generally weightless nature of the movie which – in all fairness – is leaps and bounds better than its painfully awful predecessor from 2002.
MIB 3 features some truly fun sequences like a shootout with aliens and a giant alien fish beastie in a Chinese restaurant; a fairly well-done time-travel aspect that helps freshen up some of the staleness of the franchise; and a great cast including Emma Thompson as the new head of the Agency, Alice Eve as the younger version of her character Agent O, and Michael Stuhlbarg as a very inventive and sweet character named Griffin, who is blessed and cursed with the ability to see all probabilities in all realities at once. The creature effects by the greatest makeup artist in movie history, Rick Baker, are imaginative and wonderful as usual — his best work is on the always quirky and awesome Kiwi Jemaine Clement (building a nice little career out of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords), as the film’s gnarly antagonist Boris the Animal.
MIB 3 famously (or infamously) went into full-scale production without a completed screenplay, and it certainly shows, because every time the plot felt like it was gaining momentum, it stopped dead in its tracks to feature yet another neuralizer scene chock full of Smith’s mugging and snappy one-liners. It was as if the writers were actually typing out the script as the days went on, and just stuck these little “interrogation/wacky antics with Agent J” scenes in any time they got writer’s block and weren’t sure how to proceed to the next set piece. Still, it’s kind of astonishing how coherent the story turns out, given the potentially convoluted time-travel element.
Shifting the action back to 1969 accomplishes the most important thing in this movie: removing Tommy Lee Jones from the proceedings. His “performance,” if you can call it that, is mercifully short and completely bizarre. Jones clearly phones it in here, and genuinely feels like he’s just being a cranky asshole to everyone around him. Agent K is supposed to be a gruff, ornery son of a bitch, but it felt like Jones was actually behaving this way, and didn’t really want to be a part of the production at all. Fortunately for MIB3, Josh Brolin saves the day with his uncanny impersonation of a younger Tommy Lee Jones. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of reports about how amazing his portrayal of the 1969 Agent K is, and these reports are entirely accurate. It’s an astonishing (and fun) transformation.
Men in Black 3 is like a vanilla soft serve ice cream cone – bland, predictable, nondescript, and not really the high quality, flavorful hard ice cream with the luscious toppings you’re craving; yet it’s pleasing and familiar, and you’ll consume it because it’s there.