Hollywood is infamous for cashing in on its older franchises, so it was only a matter of time before a science fiction comedy like Men in Black would be next on the chopping block. However, despite the obvious use of the film to make a quick buck, that surprisingly has not diminished the quality of the film.
The story begins in a maximum-security prison, as a sultry mute young woman saunters in to deliver a cake to the villain, referred to only as “Boris the Animal.” After a somewhat predictable exchange, we see this alien escape a prison on the moon. This opening sequence has its share of things that were so unsuccessful about the second movie: bad jokes, lackluster writing and characters that are so over the top they were better suited for the animated series.
After that, we come to what has made the series so successful thus far, witty banter between agents J and K, played by returning actors Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. They are going to MIB headquarters to attend the funeral of Zed, while more comedy continues that can only be described as painful. The jokes are wrenching and the payoffs just are not worth the set ups.
As the plot unfolds, Boris goes back in time to kill agent K, thereby preventing him from creating a global defense network that would have prevented an invasion of Earth. J has to travel even further back to stop him. Here, as the film enters its second act, it really begins to completely distance itself from the ideas of the first two movies.
The first film established the planet Earth as but a single blip on the radar in the grand scheme of the universe; having Zed go so far as to say, “Sucks, don’t it?” when the Earth is going to be blown up. The second film of the franchise bastardized this message, making our blue ball out to be more important than that, while simultaneously clinging to “life is not what we know it to be.” MIB 3 goes out of its way to avoid those earlier messages, and instead makes it a character story about the interactions between K, J, newly introduced agent O and other members of the MIB. By taking the scale of the film down to a more interpersonal level, we are able to better relate to the characters and therefore are more deeply invested in the story as it progresses.
Speaking of the characters, the role of the villain definitely leaves something to be desired here. Aside from his unexplained powers, his general mannerisms are a hybrid of the arrogance of the bug from the first movie and Marty McFly over-reacting to being called a chicken. What’s more, his failure is already pre-determined by the film’s establishment of its own interpretation of time paradoxes. As in all comedies, good must triumph over evil, but here there is never a reminder of the impending threat of the already occurring invasion, nor of the superior physicality of our antagonist. It is as though director took so much time developing sub-plots and characters that he forgot to include a truly threatening villain.
What it does get very right is the casting of Josh Brolin as the Agent K of 1969. It is apparent there is a lot of work done here to make his mannerisms and even his voice sound like that of Tommy Lee Jones. The other excellent casing choice is Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin, the alien who exists in the fifth dimension. The way the story is structured, each one of them is built off of the other while simultaneously carrying the story. That is the cornerstone of what truly solidifies this movie.
MIB 3 walks a very fine line between a cheap cash in during summer blockbuster season and a worthy sequel to an established franchise. After dismal production of a short-lived animated series and a critical failure in the second movie, not to mention over a decade since the release of the original film, there was a lot more at stake this time around. The comedy fell on its face and the villain felt more like an inciting action than a legitimate threat, but the visuals were stunning and all the protagonists were likable and relatable. Older fans of the franchise will appreciate this addition, although newcomers will not understand many of the subtle character interactions.