When a time travelling alien threatens not only the future of earth but the past forty years of Agent K’s life, Agent J heads back to the past to save the future.
It’s been 15 years since Men in Black
debuted back in 1997 and a full decade since the last outing for stars Will Smith
and Tommy Lee Jones
so it was reasonable to assume that the sci-fi comedy franchise had spawned its last alien creature. But an idea broached by Smith
during the shooting of Men in Black II
in 2001 has dragged itself into being over a number of years, overcoming lengthy development time and production delays to bring the characters back to the big screen.
A decade is a long time between sequels and Men in Black III
has yet another obstacle to overcome – its budget. While $200 million dollar blockbusters are far from unheard of, reports are suggesting that Men in Black III
has cost studio Sony Pictures
a staggering $375 million. That’s around $250 million directly on the production and another $125 on global marketing and prints. Despite the added box office heft afforded 3D features, it’s going to have a hell of a job turning a profit – especially in the wake of the massive success of The Avengers
At least Men in Black III
has one thing going for it – it’s actually rather good. After a dull and disjointed second outing, expectations were hardly high for this second sequel. But there’s an attraction to seeing the improbably charismatic Smith
back in on screen (he hasn’t had a lead role in four years) and the Men in Black
universe remains an interesting one – existing at a sidestep remove from straight sci-fi and retaining an engaging level of quirkiness despite its cutting edge technology.
The story is the first improvement, getting good mileage from the addition of time travel and multiple temporal strands, chiefly through the use of new character Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg
) whose special skills also come in handy when the narrative gets muddled. Such stumbles are inevitable in a movie dealing with time travel but some fumbles don’t sit well, such as an endgame riposte which defies logic and never bothers to explain itself.
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Doin their thang. Enlarge
Much of the film is spent back in the relatively swinging period of 1969 – a distance from the regular setting which sees the movie quickly turn into the Will Smith
show. That focus is offset by the arrival of Josh Brolin
who is tasked with the thankless job of effectively imitating the voice and taciturn manner of Tommy Lee Jones
’ K. But Brolin’s
not content to be a mere mimic; nailing the delivery but also using the chance to create his own version of the character as more open and positive. It’s a marvellous performance, offering much more than a mere straight man for Smith’s
himself is a bit of a puzzle here. While it’s clear that some 15 years have passed since he was recruited into the MiB, he still retains motor-mouth childishness of a newcomer to the extra-terrestrial policing fold. His character still acts as a placeholder for the audience, as the one who exclaims ‘Damn’ whenever things get particularly strange. J’s continuing distress at the most apparently mundane aspects of his job suggest some deeper psychological problems but for the most part Smith
is enjoyable here, even getting the chance to dig through some more emotional moments as the finale arrives.
Supporting players are generally strong, with special shout outs for the afore-mentioned Stuhlbarg
and a marvellous turn by Emma Thompson
as MiB leader O. Jemaine Clement's
villainous Boris is a little disappointing – the Tim Curry
-esque strains are amusing but he’s given too little screentime with not nearly enough time spent on the glorious alien design by Rick Baker
Will Smith and Josh Brolin. Doing a fairly similar thang... Enlarge
The effects are as detailed and ubiquitous as ever, with the film almost reaching photorealism in some of its CG sequences. But despite all the wonderful and imaginative design, the fleet-footed nature of the story never really gives us time to dwell on their bizarre features, spending far more time on the drama and comedy of the story. Pyrotechnics are rather limited, with one decent firefight and a damp squib of a car chase.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld’s
camera remains as dynamic as ever, which makes his use of 3D all the more disappointing. Despite the numerous creatures and POV camera angles there’s little sense of presence, bar a fun laser light show, and it’s hard to recommend seeking out the extra dimension. At least the image is clear and relatively bright for a change.Men in Black III
is a surprising film in many ways, chiefly due to the fact that it was dragged into existence at all. But it also offers up a decent story and one with an unusual amount of drama that actually earns a few emotional moments, while also steering refreshingly clear of a tacked on hetero romance or galling plot twists. The comedy is effective if generally underplayed, the performances are generally excellent (especially Brolin
) and WillSmith
proves once again why he’s the planet’s most bankable star. Just don’t think too much about the logic of the time travelling bits.