It seems a bit weird to be going to the cinema to see a ‘Men in Black’ film at this point. I mean, when ‘Men in Black’ originally came out I was 10 years old, in the same summer as I remember seeing ‘George of the Jungle’ and Disney’s ‘Hercules’.
While I haven’t re-watched it for many years I have fond memories of the ‘Men in Black’, it was funny, exciting, inventive and has such a fantastic final few seconds.
Its success meant a sequel wasn’t remotely surprising, however ‘Men in Black II’ took a rather long time to appear (5 years) and while a big (though not as much as the original) box office hit, it was generally considered to be fairly awful. The possibility of ‘Men in Black 3’ then, seemed less likely. But here we are, a full 15 years after the first movie.
The third instalment does pick up many years after its predecessors with Smith’s Agent J now a high ranking member of the organisation. Both he and especially K seem very weary of their work now and none of the spark from the first movie seems there.
One of the best elements of the original was the dynamic between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones; however Agent K’s story really was complete by the end of the first movie, so the writers had to concoct some reason for him to be in the sequels at all.
A hideous alien called Boris breaks out of a Lunar prison during the opening sequence, he then sets out to Kill the man who put him there, Agent K. Rather than simply killing him though, he decides to acquire a time machine and go back to the 1960s, killing him before he ever had the chance to send him to prison, something that seems remarkably easy for Boris to achieve.
So now we’re dealing with a time-travel story, which of course, without being carefully thought through can result in seriously problematic plot holes. And we have just that. Upon his murder-in-the-past, Agent K instantly disappears from existence in the present. This doesn’t seem to change anything at all except that a family now lives in his apartment. Agent J returns to work the next morning to find no-one knows who K is except for him. Here’s my first big issue with the film, Agent K personally recruits J to the Men in Black so in a timeline when he isn’t there, why is J still in the same position in the organisation? Also, the big one, why is J the only one who remembers anything about K and the previous timeline? While this mystery does get a couple of fleeting mentions involving chocolate milk (really) the film never even remotely comes close to explaining it.
So J decides he needs to go back in time too to stop Boris from Killing K and put everything right again.
Despite being poorly handled, the time travel plot in itself isn’t actually a bad idea at all. It gives the series a chance to explore some new territory and the film does gain some life once we get to the 1960s. J’s immediate arrival in the past is actually marked by some racism-related humour, unusual for this series (J wasn’t originally written as African-American). He soon manages to run into K’s younger incarnation, played by Josh Brolin, and that’s when the film starts to show some life.
Brolin does a spot-on impersonation of Jones’s voice and mannerisms, but also instils a sense of optimism in the character not seen in the older version. He certainly does the best work in the film. There are moments between him and J that come closer to the level of the original than anything else but overall it’s just not particularly funny. Indeed Boris, despite being played by one half of ‘Flight of the Concords’ is never remotely funny. The only other key alien character is much more interesting being who can see multiple realities at once. He walks a fine line between being fascinating or irritating but manages to stick to the former.
An emotional curveball is thrown in at the end which most sharp eyed viewers will see coming in a scene which doesn’t really fit with the rest of the proceedings.
Though there’s clearly some life left in the franchise, there’s just not enough ideas or humour in this instalment, who’s troubled production history sadly shows in the finished product.