Through Time and Space

The Men in Black are Back, Review of Men in Black 3

In “Men in Black 3,” the latest in director Barry Sonnenfeld’s sci-fi comedy franchise, a human-alien mixer, if you will, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones pick up their neuralyzers and put on their shades to fight more otherworldly threats. With a script that revives the fun of the first entry that was unreasonably missing in the second, this installment adds a new layer to the relationship between Smith’s and Jones’ characters, while retaining the eccentric, outer-space fun that is the energy source for the story and characters.

Agent J (Smith) and Agent K (Jones) have been working together for several years, hunting down harmful aliens while also working alongside the more benevolent ones. Meanwhile, an alien known as Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), who has a connection to K’s past, escapes his prison on the moon, after having been placed there by K decades ago. Boris soon uses a time manipulator to create an alternate universe where he killed K years ago, never ended up in prison and instigates an invasion on Earth by his people in the present day. It is then J’s task to journey back in time to 1969 so he can find K and prevent Boris from setting his plans in motion.

Will Smith brings back his wildcard temperament that has boosted his character’s performance throughout this trilogy. Whether he’s fighting alien scum, adjusting to the attitudes of 1969 (particularly the racial issues) or casually annoying K, he looks like he’s having great fun doing it, while also being his traditionally goofy self. Ever since he first became a Man in Black, J’s character has shown some maturity, especially by the film’s end, as he finds out an important detail from his childhood that better defines his relationship with Agent K.

Tommy Lee Jones only appears in a few scenes, and he drops hints that he’s hiding some information that’s of importance to J. That’s enough for us to transition to K’s younger self (Josh Brolin), and learn more about his character and what it is he’s withholding. Brolin’s impression of Jones is fantastically uncanny, and has the spirit of K’s character throughout the film, despite Jones’ extended absence. Brolin masters the facial expressions and method of speech that brings us to a greater sense of traveling back in time with J and meeting a younger K and Tommy Lee Jones.

Etan Cohen’s screenplay, which is based on Lowell Cunningham’s “The Men in Black” comic books, makes a clever use of the older-cop-younger-cop archetype in the time-travel aspect of the film. Part of what makes these films enjoyable is the contrasting personalities of J’s hip and outgoing attitude and K’s reserved and curmudgeonly attitude. J, being young and cocky, thinks he knows it all; whereas K believes that there is still much for him to learn.

But once J goes back in time, however, the two agents’ roles are reversed, with J technically being the older and more seasoned agent, and the younger K having just started out. As the two team-up together, J’s questions, as well as those of the audience, are answered as we learn why K is the way he is.

Several of the film’s jokes hit their marks, such as those of Agent J experiencing what it’s like to be an African-American in the 1960s. Other jokes, however, fall flat. In the scene where the two agents meet Andy Warhol, he begins to get on J’s nerves, to which he tells the artist: “You know, I’d have no problem pimp-slapping the shiznit out of Andy Warhol.” It’s an embarrassing joke that would have belonged better in either of the previous two films, since Smith’s gangster-talk routine as run its course by now. The visual effects are hit-and-miss, with a monocycle chase being a standout. But others, however, look cartoonish.

Barry Sonnenfeld repairs most of the damages done by the second film to the “Men in Black” series by placing some focus on the story’s characters in the middle of this alien round-up. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones have done what they can with these roles and have brought us some fun performances, but now, it’s time to hang up the suits. Don’t worry, the universe will be just fine.

Final grade: B

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