Men in Black III

Sprung from his purpose-built space-prison forty years after Agent K (Jones) shot off his arm and supposedly locked him up for good, Boris “it’s just Boris” the Animal (Clement) is finally out for revenge. Procuring a time travelling device from a fellow inmate’s son, Boris jumps back to July 16, 1969 to undo his fate by killing 60s K (Brolin). With the altered timeline all but wiping his partner from history, a mysteriously unaffected Agent J (Smith) sets out to find his missing friend. With a time machine of his own, J intends to arrive before Boris and kill him once and for all, saving K and preventing an otherwise inevitable invasion of Earth.

My God, it’s nice to have Will Smith back. Having taken a four year break from acting following the release of Seven Pounds and Hancock to focus on the careers of his children (producing Jaden Smith’s The Karate Kid, putting an Annie remake together for his daughter and, er, cameoing vocally in Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never), Smith all but vanished beneath the radar until rumours began circulating with regards to alleged sequels to I Am Legend and Hancock. Beating them both into production, however, was a third entry in the Men in Black franchise, which would reunite him with Tommy Lee Jones. Albeit briefly.

In the years since its first announcement, Men in Black III has had a bumpy ride to screens, with reports of recasting, prolonged delays and extensive rewrites plaguing development. Many reviews have been unable to get past such issues, it seems, with a number of critics commenting on the patchy story, half-baked ideas and staid jokes that apparently dog the film. Considering that the cameras started rolling without a second or third act, and that the ink was barely dry on actors’ scripts when they started filming each new scene, however, Men in Black III not only manages to surpass the first sequel but genuinely entertain while doing so.

From Nicole Scherzinger’s opening jailbreak (it’s OK, she suffers) to the crucial time jump itself, Barry Sonnenfeld’s third time around the universe rarely lets up, the film’s 103 minute running time passing by in a flurry of call backs, sight gags and dazzling action set pieces. Smith’s Agent J, as always, provides a compelling and comedic centre for the film, milking both Tommy Lee Jones and franchise newcomer Josh Brolin for every surly expression they can collectively muste. Brolin’s Jones impression is a thing of understated beauty, his efforts delving into K’s personality far more than the ramshackle trailer (better suited to marketing cheap tie-ins) would have you believe. It’s a strong cast, filled out with a sparse-but-effective Emma Thompson and a prosthetic (and scene) chewing Jemaine Clement.

There are issues, however, the biggest being the film’s lack of weight, both dramatic and comedic. Given the film’s total gestation period (approximately ten years since Smith first pitched the plot to Sonnenfeld on the set of Men in Black II) and the sheer number of passes that have been made at the script, it is truly disappointing just how unremarkable the finished product actually is. Better than many would have you believe, there is nevertheless no denying that the second sequel is still a pale imitation of the film that started it all.

At no point does Men in Black III feel like the final part in a trilogy; instead, it’s just another serviceable, passingly enjoyable but ultimately forgettable continuation for continuation’s sake. Game performances (Thompson is more than happy to cluck with the rest of them), a generous scattering of clever gags (the threequel makes pops at both Andy Warhol and Lady Gaga) and an unobtrusive running time ensures that Men in Black III barrels along agreeably enough without ever outstaying its welcome. While more of a holding pattern than an actual step forward, the film does leave the door open for a not entirely unwelcome fourth instalment – even if the final dose of neuralyser does ultimately wipe most of this latest adventure from your long-term memory.

First published on Papa Neish‘s superb website popcornaddiction. Check him out.

About The Author