Long-awaited sequels are always a risky venture. In the past we’ve seen hugely anticipated follow-ups such as Indiana Jones 4 and Star Wars Episode 1 whip viewers into a frenzy of eager anticipation, only to disappoint them on almost every level. It’s so easy for these films to promise audiences that they’ll be a return to the format everybody knows and loves, along the way reintroducing characters that we all hold near and dear to our hearts. But unfortunately most of the time the magic that those original classics once possessed is lost amongst the grains of time. Enter Men In Black 3. It’s been fifteen years since the original film that kick-started the series was released and ten years since the less than stellar sequel, and while this third entry hasn’t completely lost its luster, time hasn’t been entirely kind to the franchise either.
This return to the Men In Black universe is quick and to the point. Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement), a ruthless extraterrestrial criminal breaks free form the Lunar Max prison that has held him captive for so long, before embarking on a quest of revenge upon the man who cost him his arm and locked him up, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). But his road to revenge is not a simple one. Boris hatches a complex plan that involves travelling back in time to the 1969 and killing Agent K in the past before he ever has a chance to blow off his arm and incarcerate him. This act in turn alters the modern timeline, erasing Agent K from existence and pathing the way for a hostile intergalactic invasion. Now to save Agent K’s life, as well as the fate of planet Earth, K’s partner Agent J (Will Smith) has to chase Boris back in time before he can action his dastardly plan.
Men In Black 3 opens with such a ferocious bang that it’s easy to believe that we’re about to witness a true return to form for the series. A lengthy and spectacular jailbreak sequence gets the ball rolling, immediately introducing viewers to the villainous Boris The Animal while simultaneously showcasing a wild array of imaginative ideas. Unfortunately while this immediate highpoint is most definitely an attention-grabber, what follows fails to ever match such entertaining heights. As soon as the action shifts back to the familiar faces of Agents J and K, the film adopts a routinely lazy tone that it never quite manages to shake. The characters feel uninspired, the ideas explored are never as clever as the filmmakers clearly think they are and worst of all, the humour falls flat. Frequently. We all know comedy is subjective, but it’s hard to defend the implementation of lazy banter that feels like it was ripped straight from the original Men In Black. Will Smith spouting inane catchphrases at the top of his voice may have worked back in 1997, but judging by the deathly quiet response his attempts at humour were garnering during my packed screening, I’m apparently not alone in thinking his shtick is more than a little outdated. A shame, especially considering how big of a part humour played in the previous Men In Black films.
The biggest complaint that can be made against Men In Black 3 is that it squanders all of its potential. The script in particular feels rife with imagination and clever ideas at times, an achievement that’s tainted by frequent missed opportunities. The time travel aspect of the film is a great inclusion this time around, although with that said beside the shift to a 60’s time period, very little is done with the new addition. Even when the modern-day Boris returns to visit his younger self in the past, the film fails to capitalize on the great idea it’s presented with. Instead the two Boris’ simply engage in a lazily written spout of dialogue and call it a day. There is one neat implementation of the time travel angle late in the game, but unfortunately it’s a case of too little too late.
Continuing down this spiral of negativity for a moment, Men In Black 3 is also plagued by some particularly ugly special effects. Many of the creature designs themselves remain spectacular, but it’s the notably fake backgrounds that are the real concern. Large portions of the film were clearly shot in front of a green screen and it’s not hard to tell. At times the action resembles a live action cut scene from a video game released in the early 90’s, an effect that’s incredibly distracting to say the least. Clearly this ugly side effect stems from the film attempting to maximise the impact of its 3D, however since I opted for the 2D version I unfortunately can’t reveal how effective this utilisation of the third dimension is. On the flip side, the film at least features a fantastic soundtrack scored by Danny Elfman. It’s a small consolation, but one that does manage to elevate the cheap visuals at times.
One of the biggest saving graces Men In Black possesses is its excellent cast. With Tommy Lee Jones being resigned to only a small portion of the runtime, this is Will Smith’s show. And despite his aforementioned failed attempts at comedy, he’s as charismatic as he has ever been. For the small time he’s on screen, Tommy Lee Jones also does a great job with his grumpy, somewhat one directional role. He makes the most of the material given to him, but since all he’s required to do is grunt and frown, such a role is clearly not a struggle for the veteran actor. Josh Brolin is the newest addition to the team here, playing the 1969 version of Agent K. Clearly the filmmakers were looking for an actor who could match Tommy Lee Jones’ mannerisms, but to say Brolin nails this task would be a huge understatement. Brolin is the pure embodiment of a younger Jones, perfectly matching the senior actors’ every physical characteristic. He’s fantastic in his role and easily the highlight of the entire film. Lastly comedy actor Jemaine Clement steps into the shoes as Boris The Animal, a strange pick considering his restrained performance, but one that still generates superbly quirky results.
There’s no escaping the fact that Men In Black 3 is a sizeable letdown following such a lengthy wait, however that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. Despite the high quantity of flaws dragging it down, the film is still an entertaining blockbuster featuring an array of clever ideas. The implementation of the time travel storyline successfully keeps the series feeling fresh, while the heavy inclusion of a new character who posses the ability to simultaneously sees the past, present and future (much like Doctor Manhattan) is a brilliant addition. It’s just too bad that most of these good ideas are wasted and underutilized.
Men In Black is certainly a fun time killer, but it’s hard not to feel as though it’s a film aimed towards a younger, less fussier audience. If you’re a hardcore fan of the series or you have brave kids, then maybe give Men In Black 3 a shot. Just lower your expectations going in and don’t expect it to be a return to the glory days of the first film, then perhaps you’ll be able to overlook the many niggles dragging the overall product down into the depths of mediocrity.
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