Review: ‘Men in Black III’ (a surprisingly superior unnecessary threequel)

Third time’s the charm; director Barry Sonnenfeld finally nails a story cool enough for the Men in Black.

Imprisoned for over forty years, illegal alien Boris “The Animal” (Jemaine Clement) escapes a maximum security prison to exact revenge on the MIB agent who put him away: Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). The evil alien’s scheme will exact revenge on his jailer and on the Earth itself, but it requires going back in time to 1969. When all traces of Agent K suddenly disappear from the present, Agent J (Will Smith) is the only person who can remember the correct timeline and his partner being alive. As an alien invasion force begins the systematic destruction of all life on Earth, Agent J time jumps to the past, but can he save his partner, stop the bad guy, rescue the Earth, prevent destroying his own timeline, and resurrect a fifteen year-old franchise before the credits roll?

It’s easy to love the concept and characters of Men in Black; the actual films, however, have always seemed hit and miss. The original film was 98 minutes long but seemed too short, hitting its stride right at the finish line and feeling like there should have been more. The sequel was 88 minutes but seemed too long, rehashing the same bits and leaving the MIB agency feeling slapstick rather than incidentally comical. At its core, the whole concept is a sci-fi police procedural, so why construct scenes solely for the sake of a comedy bit when it could be made to serve the story and remain entertaining? MIB III seems to get this at last, giving the Agency and its characters their due while answering some of the oldest questions about K and J that you probably forgot all about.

If there’s one failing that can be singled out in the film, it’s the assumption that audiences already know who these people are. It kind of demands that you’ve at least seen the original and actually care enough to wonder what these guys might be up to ten years later. For everyone who has, there are rewards, including Easter eggs of previous goings on, a plot device utilized to its fullest that genuinely surprises, a clever production design that embraces its past and present, and of course Josh Brolin’s 1969 dead-on Tommy Lee Jones impression (as Agent K, of course). Real fans of the MIB (including the original Malibu comic and the animated series) already know you can be quirky, weird, and fun without resorting to stupidity and random genitalia jokes. It would almost feel like a love letter to fans if it didn’t also reek of squeezing more money out of a safe bet.

At 103 minutes, you get more MIB than ever, and it goes by quick. Jemaine Clement’s turn as baddie Boris is adequately twisted and threatening, giving our favorite suits a real challenge to keep their feet to the fire. Michael Stuhlbarg plays new alien sidekick Griffin, a walking plot device that you can’t help but like. Keep your eyes peeled for a legion of classic alien monster designs in and about MIB’s 1969 headquarters (just because they could). Of course, no one was really asking for this threequel other than Sony Entertainment, but “no one asking for it” didn’t stop Paramount from recasting the original Star Trek crew and making a bundle. While everyone was surprised by how well the new Star Trek film was received and performed at the box office, will Men in Black fans (new and old) wait with anticipation for another sequel in the same way Trek fans are? Sony certainly hopes so.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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