By Bob Garver
“Men in Black 3” is one of those third films that doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first film but isn’t as disastrous as the second. I find that this is often the case with franchises with three or more films. My theory is that it has to do with expectations. The first film is of course going to be well-received hence the need for sequels. Then along comes the second film where the expectation is for repeated success or even improvement with the winning formula. Unfortunately, many second films are lame cash-ins not made with the same passion. When a third film is made, the expectation is for the film to be another disappointment. With expectations so low, it’s not hard for the third film to exceed them. It’s why I’ve treated the third installments of “The Matrix” and “Jurassic Park” with such kindness. And it’s why I just can’t get too mad at “Men in Black 3”.
Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are back, still keeping tabs on alien life on Earth. Their act hasn’t changed much; K is as always the grizzled veteran, J the brash hotshot. J will say something about K being antisocial, K will say something about J being foolish and so on. By now they’ve learned to tolerate each other and actually have good chemistry as partners. The film’s early scenes are welcome if not a bit overly familiar.
The partnership is tested when they face an unprecedented problem. An evil alien called Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) has broken out of his moon prison and wants revenge on K, who locked him up over forty years ago. But it’s not enough for him to go after K now, he goes back in time to stop K from arresting him and subsequently inventing a device that saves Earth from annihilation. When J goes to work in the morning he learns that K has been dead for decades and Boris and his planet are laying waste to Earth. To save the world he’ll have to go back in time himself.
In the past, J finds himself working with a younger K (Josh Brolin). Smith and Brolin have chemistry just as good as Smith and Jones and Brolin does a creepily spot-on impression of a young K. Bill Hader (yay!) plays Andy Warhol, surprisingly an undercover Men in Black agent as opposed to an alien. Emma Thompson and Alice Eve play two versions of an agent with a romantic history with K. But my favorite new character is Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin, an alien who can see into the future. The catch is that he can see multiple versions of the future based on minor variables. His emotions run high and low because of all the very realistic possibilities. He’s mostly anxious, but also agreeably curious.
The film has taken some criticism for plot holes involving its elements of time travel. I know I’m usually one to complain about omissions, inconsistencies, and flat-out wrongness, but not here. I’m not going to get bent out of shape if this action comedy with space aliens doesn’t nail all the details of a fictional science.
Even with their out-of-this-world work, J and K pretty much have a routine down at this point. Appropriate, since “Men in Black 3” seems pretty routine. The jokes are funny but expected. What makes the film stand out are the new characters, especially Stuhlbarg’s clairvoyant and the villain played by Jemaine Clement (who also gave a good villainous performance last year voicing the evil cockatoo in the animated comedy “Rio”). It’s a pretty decent film that does a service to the “Men in Black” franchise, especially since the second film was such a bomb. Seeing as it is such a serviceable third film, I feel it’s only right to give it…
Three Stars out of Five.
“Men in Black 3” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and brief suggestive content. Its running time is 106 minutes.