Like many successful films whose legacies were squandered by abysmal follow-ups, the “Men in Black” franchise has set out to wipe the slate clean and recapture the magic.
Avoiding the overcooked slapstick of 2002’s underwritten “Men in Black 2,” the third installment brings back the original’s whopping action and sci-fi comedy while upping the ante with some emotional resonance.
Of course, the third movie was hardly effortless. A lot of drama reportedly went on behind the scenes, so much that Sony Pictures almost pulled the plug on the project. But the film suffers little from the production problems, if at all. “MIB3,” as it is officially stylized, is a big-budget flick without the self-consciousness of one, showing a willingness — but not a gross desperation — to entertain the masses.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld and scriptwriter Etan Cohen opted for a more introverted take on their alien-busting agents. Will Smith tones down his typical loud charm and co-star Tommy Lee Jones looks more solemn than ever. The film still offers occasional visual treats, with grotesquely fascinating creatures and some heavily computer-generated sequences, including a shootout at an alien-infested Chinese restaurant.
Alien designer Rick Baker deserves his usual props for creating increasingly cool planetary beings, with one classically oriental creature looking particularly exotic and repulsive. For the most part, however, the visual treats are more restrained.
The story is deceptively simple, with time traveling comicalities that owe plenty to “Back to the Future.” An alien criminal named Boris “the Animal,” portrayed by Jemaine Clement of New Zealand’s brilliant comedic duo Flight of the Conchords, breaks out of a prison on the moon and sets out to take vengeance on his captor, Agent K (Jones).
He plans to travel back in time to kill a much younger Agent K, unleashing a series of consequences that includes an alien-infested earth. Smith must go back in time to stop him from carrying out his scheme.
As with many time-traveling blockbusters, it’s best not to question any inconsistencies that the script raises. To the credit of Cohen and his many co-writers, the film indulges little in gimmicky twists and turns, and when it does, they are mostly for the story’s benefit.
The film’s brightest star comes in Josh Brolin’s portrayal of the 1969 version of Agent K. Brolin not only nails Jones’s mannerisms and Texas drawl, but adds an oomph of dry humor that rarely fails. Another standout is Michael Stuhlbarg’s Griffin, a subalien creature who can foresee a multitude of futuristic possibilities. Griffin’s ticks could have easily become a novel annoyance, but Stuhlbarg’s delivery is almost poetic with his mile-a-minute exposition of emotions.
“MIB3” is far from perfect, with the painful obligatory product placements and ultimately feckless shootouts, but the film is absolved with a competent script and canny humor that makes it a blockbuster ride worth taking.
Men in Black 3