Usually when a film gets to the third episode, the magic has just run out. The Godfather: Part III, Superman III and Shrek the 3rd were all pale comparisons to the original. It is very hard to keep the sparkle going at times, though there are exceptions. Goldfinger was the third Bond film and considered one of the best. Same with the 3rd Indiana Jones flick. Director Barry Sonnenfeld tries to make the fire hit on the win-place-show ticket with Men in Black III.
The film takes place a few years after the last adventure. Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent J (Will Smith) are still working together, cleaning-up after alien mishaps. K still doesn’t share any of his personal life with J, something that just bothers J. They have been partners for a long time and still are basically strangers. Meanwhile, we find that there is a prison on the moon that houses some of the meanest criminals in the galaxy. The worst of the worst is Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), the leader of a planet-destroying race. After a daring escape, Boris makes his way back to Earth where he gets hold of an ancient device that makes time travel easy. Boris changes the past and Agent K no longer exists.
The problem is that Agent J remembers his partner where no one else does and is also craving chocolate milk. His boss Agent O (Emma Thompson in an overblown cameo) knows that dairy craving is a symptom of a time rift. She tells J that he must go back to 1969 and restore the correct time line and save K’s life. So, before we can say Austin Powers 2, Agent J is transported back to the end of the swinging 1960’s.
Once back in 1969, J finds that aliens were already visiting earth, even at the budding of the US space program. He also does something that he is not supposed to do – meet his partner Agent K (played as a younger man by Josh Brolin). The two eventually team up and try to stop the original Boris and the aged time-traveling Boris from being able to implement their nefarious plans. They must also find and implement a planetary shield that exists in only one version of the future. This plan also involves a multidimensional being who can see the different outcomes of any event, meaning he can basically see all the futures. It all leads to a giant fight all around the Apollo 11 launch.
The biggest find of Men in Black 3 is Jemaine Clement as the bad guy Boris. Channeling his inner Tim Curry, this actor gives one of the best villain performances of the year. He snarls and snaps with a vengeful glee that few bad guys possess. There is a good chance that his performance could become a classic villain role. The other great bit of acting comes from Josh Brolin. He finds the right canter of Tommy Lee Jones’ voice and the right movements. One never questions the idea that the two men are not the same person. It is a performance that is melded in subtlety and brilliance.
The film is far from perfect. Tommy Lee Jones is almost an afterthought in the movie. The script focuses on 1969 but it is a shame that such a talented performer is regulated mostly to the back bench. Will Smith is our hero and basically looks bored doing the part. He has had many successes in the years since the first Men in Black movie and this must feel more like a fat paycheck performance than an artistic challenge.
One of the more disturbing nitpicking aspects of the film is the make-up. Not the special effects make-up by Rick Baker but the greasepaint used on the main characters. It is noticeable, making the faces of the main characters have an eerie glow. When one notices a detail like that, it distracts from the overall impact of the movie. Also in the nitpicking department, they show the lunar surface with a complete lunar landing module. When the astronauts left the moon, the top of the ship went with them. Yet another detail that takes away from the enjoyment of the experience.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld delivers just the film one would expect and nothing more. The movie feels more like the third adventure with all the supposed baggage of the first two times out and without that sense of wonder. He tries to make the film a more coherent whole than the last Men in Black flick and barely succeeds.
Men in Black III is mostly for the fans and a cash cow for the studio. While it doesn’t have the wonder of freshness of the first film, it definitely holds up better than the second film. If you are a fan of the franchise, put this one on your summer movie-watching list. For the average not-fanatic, it is not a bad way to spend a few hours.
MEN IN BLACK 3 opens May 25, 2012