The first Men In Black was sharp and funny, a tight, effective summer special-effects picture. Men In Black II was dumb, endless (even though it was ten minutes shorter than its predecessor), and worst of all, not any fun. One good thing it did, though, was set the bar so low for Men In Black 3 that all the latest installment had to do was not suck to be an improvement. Thankfully, Men In Black 3 exceeds those modest standards with room to spare, and while nowhere near as good as the first, is quite an entertaining bit of blockbusterism.
It opens with a sequence that utilizes the Pussycat Dolls’ Nicole Scherzinger to demonstrate the 3D photography (which is impressive, as is she, though the leering goes on a hair longer than it needs to), and to introduce principal villain Boris The Animal, under extremely tight guard at a prison more maximum-security than any on Earth. I’ll leave it there, as both the location of the prison and the name of the actor who plays Boris are best experienced as surprises.
As for the titular Men in Black, agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones), having been partners for 14 years, have reached the point in the relationship where K’s reticence and continuing reluctance to confide in J are causing a rift. Additional complicating factors are the death of previous boss Zed (Rip Torn), who’s replaced by agent O (Emma Thompson, in far too brief an appearance), and more lethally, the fact that the very dangerous Boris The Animal wants revenge on K, who arrested him and sent him to super-duper-max prison. Suddenly, one day J wakes up and gradually realizes that he’s in a world in which K has been dead for 40 years…..and he has to travel back in time to 1969 to save him, and with him the planet.
Men In Black 3, as SF, is gibberish, but it’s reasonably articulate gibberish. The script plays it both ways with linear and quantum time travel, doing just a good enough job at sounding plausible to let the movie patch over the parts that don’t make sense with jokes. And, while they aren’t as good or fresh as in the first movie, the jokes are quite clever, both verbal and visual. Since in order to travel in time, one must “time jump,” Will Smith finds himself compelled to jump off the Chrysler Building. Every bit of the picture’s massive budget (well over $200 million) is on display in the ensuing sequence, a funny, exciting bit of business that brings to mind a live-action cartoon in the best possible sense, and one that makes actual relevant use of 3D (a fact I admit with great reluctance; Men In Black 3 joins a very small group of 3D movies that are almost worth the annoyance).
One advantage the Men In Black movies have always had over other Will Smith vehicles is having Tommy Lee Jones around, with sufficient gravitas that he isn’t overwhelmed by Will Smith doing his Will Smith Thing. Here, Josh Brolin substitutes for Jones for most of the movie and does an eerily good job of playing the 1969 version (especially in the scene when the agents confront Andy Warhol, played by the always-brilliant Bill Hader), so much so that my friend with whom I saw the movie turned to me afterward and said, “I really want to see a lot more Josh Brolin-Will Smith movies now!” And I agree, they do work quite well together, so much so that as the movie goes along, Will Smith starts giving something resembling an actual performance, which is nice, because before his act solidified into shtick he was an appealing young actor. At times in Men In Black 3, though, he does come across as a bit too old for that act, and in need of an upgrade to Will Smith 2.0. Still, Smith doesn’t sink this picture, by any means, and for all his foibles is still a charismatic presence.
There’s no way to say “Men In Black 3 doesn’t suck” without it seeming condescending, because, well, it is. I know it’s a little mean of me that that’s the only thing I can think of as a pull quote for the poster (what I wouldn’t give to see that poster….) but considering how woeful the second movie was and, for all it being entertaining, how silly the first one was, “it doesn’t suck” actually kind of is an achievement. I was going to write some about how Men In Black 3 violated series canon, but then I started laughing uncontrollably because, seriously, it’s Men In Black. But, all that aside, this latest installment in the series is very entertaining and has cool special effects. Men In Black 3 does exactly what it needs to do to be the kind of movie it set out to be, which is the standard for success for any movie, blockbuster or no.