In our current climate of bloated blockbusters, with endless comic-book adaptations and sequels oversaturating the market, did anyone actually need another Men in Black film in 2012? I certainly didn’t think so, especially a decade on from the awful Men in Black II, so I went into Barry Sonnenfield’s second sequel with understandably low expectations. Imagine my surprise then, to discover that – while not without its share of problems – Men in Black III is a highly enjoyable return to form, wildly exceeding expectations with sumptuous visuals, fun and inventive use of 3D, clever casting, gleefully grotesque special effects make-up by Rick Baker, and more of the series’ deadpan weirdness and humour.
MIB3 starts poorly, as one of the galaxy’s worst bad guys, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), escapes from a maximum security lunar prison with the aid of one Nicole Scherzinger, seemingly there to look hot before being abruptly disposed of. Boris plots to take revenge on the man who put him away, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), traveling back in time to do so. Meanwhile, the curmudgeonly K and his motor-mouthed protégé J (Will Smith) haul out the same old shtick for the first 20 minutes or so, once again breaking out their lasers and neuralyzers to deal with extraterrestrials hidden amongst modern New York. Most of the jokes fall flat, and the film’s notorious re-write and production problems are evident in this opening stanza; aside from the 3D, it feels like MIB2 all over again (only without the damn dog).
The film doesn’t really pick up until J travels back in time to 1969 to save his mentor’s life and the world from assured destruction. The younger version of K is played by Josh Brolin, who is once again excellent here. His impression of Jones is spot on – so great, in fact, that it pretty much guarantees the film must-see status – but he also impresses by shedding some light on what changed the idealistic young agent into a weary old grump. Smith is as charismatic as ever here, and he and Brolin have great chemistry together. It’s a pleasure to watch these two navigate 1960s New York (featuring some impressive production design), even if some of the opportunities are wasted, and the casting throughout is top notch: Alice Eve plays the younger Agent O (Emma Thompson), Bill Hader is Andy Warhol, and Michael Stuhlbarg is Griffin, a hyper-dimensional being who can see every possible outcome of every situation at all times.
The film’s final act has some fun with its Cape Canaveral setting during the Apollo 11 space launch, as well as with Griffin’s fascinating ability, and it manages to be unexpectedly affecting and thought-provoking in the end. While never quite on par with the exuberant first film adapted from Lowell Cunningham’s comic books in 1997, MIB3 is the sequel that film deserved and Sonnenfeld and co. have made a decent, if not entirely convincing, argument for the franchise’s continued existence. The film is unfortunately let down by a patchy script and somewhat underwhelming villain (Clement never quite convinces) – and it’s occasionally hard work believing that Men In Black is relevant in 2012 – but otherwise this is a welcome and riotous comeback from a franchise I had all but written off, and also one of the few films I would actually recommend seeing in 3D.
Watch the trailer for Men In Black III below.