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Theatrical Review: MEN IN BLACK 3

Brad McHargue

May 22nd, 2012

Promotional photo for Men in Black 3

After nearly a decade since the sequel, and an astounding 15 years since the first film, Barry Sonnenfeld and Co. have managed to craft an original and exceedingly entertaining conclusion to a pair of films that many felt needed to simply fade into obscurity. After all, they’ve saved the Earth twice, what more can Agents J and K do that doesn’t tread a thin line between repetitiveness and money grab? It turns out a lot.

MEN IN BLACK 3 opens with the escape of Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), a heavily-bearded alien with black goggles for eyes. Still bitter over the fact that Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) shot off his arm and had him incarcerated in the high-tech LunarMax Prison on the moon 40 years prior, Boris kills a number of guards and his busty accomplice (her expendability highlighting just how evil he is) before making his way to Earth. Meanwhile, after 14 years on the job together, J (Will Smith) and K’s relationship has apparently soured, resulting in broken down communication and, after a particularly heated discussion about Boris, J being suspended for four weeks.

Of course, this doesn’t happen, as Boris travels back to 1969 (before his arm can be blown off) to kill K, resulting in an altered timeline where K is an MIB hero. To save K and prevent Boris’ kind from taking over the Earth, J then travels back to 1969 where he teams up with Young K (Josh Brolin) to stop Boris from killing him. It’s an intricate plot, involving a host of new characters, abandoning old ones, and dealing with time travel in a way that fits in snugly with the Men in Black universe all while bringing to the table a more mature level of humor that generally avoids the slapstick nature of the second film.

The bulk of the humor in the film comes courtesy of Will Smith, whose befuddled facial expressions and witty one-liners are always on point; given that Tommy Lee Jones is out of the picture for most of the film, much of this happens during the repartee between Smith and Brolin. It’s steeped in confusion, with J utterly incredulous over how K, who is far less uptight in the past, became the way he is in the future. Is it ever outright explained? No, not explicitly, and that’s bound to be divisive. But the film’s sentimental and extremely touching conclusion suggests the precise moment where K’s personality makes a drastic shift, suggesting an answer to the question J wanted all along. It’s not perfect, yet given that the film’s screenplay wasn’t even completed by the time filming began, it manages to provide a satisfying conclusion that tugs at the heart-strings and provides a modicum of closure, even if it is a bit confusing.

As Young K, Josh Brolin's fastidious performance channeling a young Tommy Lee Jones is downright eerie at times; his voice and facial expressions mirror Jones’ so well that it’s practically chameleon-like. Jemaine Clement, near unrecognizable save for a slight Australian inflection in his deep, gruff voice, is the weakest link, if only due to the nature of the character. Whereas much of the humor of the previous films was presented in a slapstick manner, MIB3 is a bit more subdued, especially in the ways both the younger and older J and K interact. In contrast, Boris is just too over-the-top to fit in with the rest of the characters. That’s not to say the slapstick-y humor is gone entirely, but it’s certainly not pervasive enough to shift the tone of the film.

As J and K make their way from place to place in an attempt to stop past Boris from achieving his goal, they run into Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), a mild-mannered and timid alien with the ability to see a multitude of futures and their outcomes, albeit with the uncertainty of when they’re going to happen. His less-than-accurate prescience is endlessly endearing, with Stuhlbarg channeling a sort of Rain Man-like quality to the character with his nervousness, eliciting a level of sympathy from the viewer heretofore unseen in previous MEN IN BLACK films. Finally there’s Andy Warhol, played by Bill Hader: Though his screen time is relegated to no more than five minutes, it’s a glorious five minutes, filled to the brim with jabs and prods at the absurdity of pop art and the general art scene of the late sixties.

If the weeks leading up to the eventual release of MEN IN BLACK 3 taught me anything, it’s that people really do not like MEN IN BLACK 2. While most express a fondness for the original, mere mention of the sequel often elicits a reaction drowning in vitriol. I personally don’t see it, as I found the sequel to be a fun, albeit inferior film to the first, and as such was not tainted by the general disdain surrounding this third film. Much of my enjoyment stems from the great characters, wonderful performances, and tight dialogue. It represents a more mature approach to a series that, until now, has been outright goofy in its execution. As a result, MEN IN BLACK 3 holds the rare distinction of a second sequel outshining its two predecessors.

Grade B

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