Out of time – Men in Black 3 review

Men in Black 3 – Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and Josh Brolin. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Men in Black 3 comes ten years after Men in Black 2, and fifteen years after the first instalment. In it, Agent J (Will Smith) travels back in time to 1969, where he struggles to grasp the old fashioned (although still futuristic to us unenlightened earthlings) methods employed by the titular extraterrestrial police agency. He meets the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones‘ Agent K, portrayed by 44-year-old Josh Brolin. He claims to be 29, and J remarks that K has some “city miles” on him. Funny. The same can be said about the franchise.

For all the supposedly spectacular special effects, Men in Black 3 is a relic of another era. In the opening ten minutes alone, direct quotes from Jerry Maguire and Fight Club are recited; two pop culture references that are positively ancient. At one point, J threatens to “pimpslap the shiznit” out of Andy Warhol (Bill Hader), and the artist is befuddled by his ultra-hip parlance. If someone said that to me today, I too would assume they were a time-traveller, but from 1995 and not the future.

The original movie, based on Lowell Cunningham’s comic book series of the same name, felt truly new and exciting. The buddy-cop dynamic between Smith and Jones was electric, and the creepy-crawly creature effects were tangible and grotesque. One and a half decades later, and we seem to have taken a step backwards. Everything – even the famous green goop – feels distant, incorporeal, and unreal (and not in a good way). Director Barry Sonnenfeld, despite embracing 3-D, has failed to create an immersive experience. Everything that once seemed magical and terrifying is now simply fake.

The wheels of the plot are set in motion by Boris the Animal (Flight of the ConchordsJemaine Clement; threatening enough, but oddly afforded few jokes ), the only survivor of an alien race, holed up in lunar prison. He escapes in the opening scene, and seeks revenge against K for claiming his arm when they previously met. Boris travels back to 1969 with the intention of killing K and undoing the last forty-odd years; saving his arm, his species, and amassing an army to conquer Earth in the process. There’s a chance this retconning of culture would also inadvertently erase our collective awareness of the Kardashians too, so it’s not all bad.

As a result of Boris’ interdimensional meddling, K is sucked out of existence, leaving J alone in a recalibrated world where his partner is said to have died four decades earlier (how he would have been recruited to the MIB without K’s help we don’t know, but shame on us for looking for logic). So, J skips back through the years to right Boris’ wrongs, sparking up a friendship with the surprisingly affable but still somewhat surly K the Younger. Though Smith is always charming, he’s not given much to work with here. Screenwriter Etan Cohen – and however many other scribes had a hand in the controversially delayed final draft – offers him a heart-wrenching finale that is only somewhat earned, but the quips don’t so much land with a thud as they do a sonic boom. Smith doesn’t get to share many sequences with Jones either. Thankfully, Brolin is a more than suitable substitute. He’s the whole film’s raison d’être; his impression is spot-on, and he’s also got a spark of energy sorely missing from the rest of the picture.

Rip Torn does not return as MIB chief Z, having been killed off sometime between the last movie and this one. He’s been replaced by Agent O (Emma Thompson), present for a handful of scenes; in the sixties, she’s played by Alice Eve. Neither actress has nearly enough screen time, nor are they adequately established as K’s love-interest throughout the ages. Michael Stuhlbarg gets a nice showcase as Griff; a sweet, oddball being who can glimpse infinite alternate realities at once. Oh, to look through his eyes and see a Men in Black sequel that lives up to the promise of the original.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Men in Black 3 arrives in Australian cinemas May 24, 2012.

One Response to “Out of time – Men in Black 3 review”

  1. You know, M.I.B. actually has a different meaning…it means “Mutual in Bed”, and it’s awesome…try a search for it on youtube!

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