Well that was… something. Men In Black 3 is, as many of my contemporaries have noted, about 70% great, and 30% painfully bad. If you followed along with the film’s troubled production history, you’ll know that the modern day photography was completed first, and that due to the film’s time travel plot, the production, having seen some pretty terrible footage from the first leg of the shoot, shut down for over a month in order to complete some pretty severe re-writes. The good news? Once Will Smith lands in 1969, the film is an absolute blast, sliding into the same wonderful rhythms of the original smash hit. Josh Brolin is particularly fantastic, making Tommy Lee Jones’s performance in the rest of the film seem tired and phoned in by comparison. Brolin may be my favorite iteration of Agent K since the first film, and at his best, carries the weight of his ludicrous dialogue with such finesse that you forget you’re watching a different actor. Will Smith is his usual charming self, but with a definite twinge of exhaustion seeping in around the edges, hinting that his recent semi-retirement may be due to either a lack of quality screenplays, or general career fatigue.
Why is the first 20 or so minutes so bad you ask? Honestly I wish I knew. The jokes are there, the shots are pretty, and the production design is as inventive as ever… it just doesn’t work. You don’t laugh, you barely even smile, and the whole shtick just seems like they’re trying too hard. I would even put the whole of the mediocre work of the second film above this first portion in terms of quality, and given how much that movie annoyed me, that’s saying quite a lot. Emma Thompson is a lovely addition as Agent O, the convenient replacement for Rip Torn after the actor went off the deep end and ended up in rehab. She’s so consistently wonderful that you’d think she’d be able to make her part work, but even she seems to be struggling to find the punch-line in the early going, eventually settling into what I assume are a handful of reshot scenes with Smith that seem very natural. Alice Eve plays a younger version of Agent O in the past, and she was added to the cast after the shutdown, so I can only assume that her part and all the references to it are part of the restructuring that occurred mid-shoot.
One of the big surprises for me is how much fun our big baddie, Boris the Animal, truly is. He’s ferocious, amusing, and altogether a great menace for our heroes to face. Played by Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Concords fame, he’s got some of the coolest prosthetic makeup work I’ve seen in a long time, with its share of CG enhancements,
and I love the design work so much that I really won’t go any farther into it than that. You’ll have to see it. Other great supporting turns come courtesy of Bill Hader
as Andy Warhol, and Michael Stulbarg
whose Griffin is one of the highlights of the rewritten middle of the film. His character ties everything together, and he’s a joy to watch in the part. It also helps that he gets most of the best lines, spontaneously creating paradoxes and solving them seemingly between sentences. The classic Men in Black
winks and nods to actually sci-fi theory comes back with a vengeance, and they have a lot of fun dealing with their time travel conundrums, but it would’ve been nice to see them go a lot farther with it. This is family entertainment after all, so I guess I shouldn’t expect anything too heady, but it’s always nice to see some real consequences associated with time travel, and this isn’t a good example of that.
Men in Black 3 is a lot of fun… once it gets there. The finale is a lot more CG reliant than it probably should be, but shooting it all on a green screen was probably the only option the filmmakers had to meet their release date. It’s not jarringly bad or anything, just very artificial, and I miss the days when Will Smith was actually running across the roofs of buildings chasing somebody instead of running on a treadmill. Nitpicks aside, you could do a lot worse, and while not the strongest entry, it certainly fixes a lot of what the second film gets wrong. Now that they’ve shaken the rust off, I’d be curious to see what a fourth film could bring, as they really haven’t tried to close the door at all with this one. Bring back Emma Thompson and find some way of incorporating Brolin again and I’m down for another go-round, but that’ll depend on the box office and the schedules of all involved. It took about a decade just to get this one, so I suppose we can hope that they won’t wait another decade to try again.
An alien criminal kills the young Agent K in 1969, altering the timeline, changing the Agency and placing the Earth in danger. Veteran Agent J (Will Smith) must travel back in time to 1969 to before the murder and work with the young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to save him, the Agency, the Earth and humanity itself.