Movie Review: Men in Black 3
By Matthew Huntley
June 6, 2012

We've secretly replaced Tommy Lee Jones with an actor 30 years younger. Does Will Smith notice?

There comes a moment in Men in Black 3 when Agent J (Will Smith) turns to his friend-mentor-partner, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), and says, “I’m getting too old for this.” J and K are of course the Men in Black, and they’ve just taken part in their umpteenth alien shootout inside a Chinese restaurant, the owner and clientele of which were extraterrestrials. Sadly, when J makes this comment, I was pretty much in agreement - yes, he is getting too old for this. That goes not only for him and the other characters, but also the actors and filmmakers behind this 15-year-old franchise.

The idea of aliens secretly living among us and being monitored by an underground organization is no longer novel. It was fresh and exciting when the first Men in Black (1997) came out but became less so with Men in Black 2 (2002). Now with this third installment, it’s moving into slow and dry territory. While I give screenwriter Etan Cohen credit for devising a plot that actually gives the characters something to do other than hunt aliens and make witty comments, my overall reaction is that it’s still been done before, either in the previous MIB movies or other sci-fi comedies. Therefore, I think it’s time J and K hang up their ray guns, put away their sunglasses and move on.

When the movie opens, one of K’s longtime enemies, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), escapes from the Lunar Max prison on the moon and swears revenge on K by traveling back in time and killing him before Animal can be arrested (or lose one of his arms). He chooses the date July 16, 1969, the same day Apollo 11 blasts off from Cape Canaveral and becomes the first space shuttle to land on the moon. It’s also the date K installed the ArcNet protective shield around Earth to fend off Boris’ own race, the Boglodites. Why Boris didn’t choose an earlier date, say before K even became a Man in Black, goes unexplained, but never mind. When J learns of this his partner’s premature death, he too travels back in time to stop it.

In terms of its plot and structure, MIB3 owes a lot to the Terminator and Back to the Future movies, although, to be fair, it does possess some unique qualities regarding J’s time travel situation. For example, I liked how he feels an uncontrollable urge to drink chocolate milk after there’s a riff in the space time continuum. Once this happens, he heads back to MIB headquarters, where no one else is aware of K’s existence, except for the new chief, Agent O (Emma Thompson), who says K has been dead for over 40 years. She knew him back in the ‘60s when they had an unspoken attraction to each other. But if any of this is true, how is J able to remember K in the present day? Shouldn’t his memory have gotten erased like all the other agents? That’s actually one of the film’s running questions, and all I’ll say is it has a rather poignant answer.

When J reveals his sudden desire for dairy, it’s a sign to O that someone been tampering with time and she sends the agent on a mission to correct things before the world gets overrun by aliens. J finds Jeffrey Price (Michael Chernus), son of Boris’s prison inmate who invented the time travel device, and is told he must free fall from Chrysler Building in order to obtain time travel speed, after which lands 40 years in the past.

The film is amusing in the way it’s conscious of J’s race and social status in 1969 New York City. There’s a funny scene when he steals a car and is pulled over by two white cops. He tells them they shouldn’t assume that just because a black man is driving a nice car he probably stole it, before hesitating when realizes he did just that.

When J finds Boris on Coney Island and starts using his futuristic anti-alien weaponry to chase him down, he’s arrested by a young Agent K, played by Josh Brolin, who does an uncanny job of assuming the role from Jones. Brolin, one of our most underrated actors, is a joy to watch and does a fine job of embodying the K character. He’s so convincing, in fact, we hardly view his performance as a simple imitation; it’s more full-fledged and we’re with him the whole time. Bill Hader adds nice support, too, playing Andy Warhol, who’s actually an undercover MIB agent; and Michael Stuhlbarg is sprightly as an alien with the power to see into the future who aids J in his mission.

Yes, there are some nice things to say about Men in Black 3, and it’s harmless in the grand scheme of things, but it’s ultimately unnecessary. It’s never offensive, but it’s not terribly exciting, either. The movie reportedly cost $230 million to produce, and of that, I wish extra time and money had been spent on brainstorming a more original screenplay and grander ideas. Part of me can’t help but think the studio just wanted something to get this project off the ground instead of coming up with a truly inspired concept. As it is, the movie doesn’t go anywhere new or special, and save for a few moments here and there, the jokes are flat and mediocre. Granted, this is a step in a better direction than Men in Black 2, but not enough in a different one. If they decide to put the kibosh on Men in Black 4, I’d probably be okay with that.