Another week, another sequel.
We’re only a couple of weeks into the official summer movie season and already I’m tired of prequels, sequels and trilogies. Many of these properties never warranted a sequel in the first place let alone three installments. We have the Hollywood machine to thank for resurrecting the Men in Black franchise for one more go-around. In the war of attrition that is the May-July blockbuster onslaught MIB III is just another notch in the belt for the Hollywood formula. It’s not that the movie is that bad, it’s just tired.
As the story opens, our trusty secret agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are entering their 14th year as partners. Little has changed: K is still the same stoic, short-on-words old coot and J is still incessantly trying to get him to open up.
Unbeknownst to them trouble is brewing…on the moon. The secret agency has built a maximum security lunar prison to house the worst aliens in the galaxy. One of the residents is Boris, The Animal (played by Jemaine Clement, literally chewing on the scenery.) Boris is considered to be the most dangerous alien in the universe. But of course after some bumbling, stooge-like guards are duped by a beautiful woman with a birthday cake Boris is released to wreak havoc on earth once again.
The set up for MIB III is familiar but also extremely limp. These characters are just going through the motions for the first 30-minutes, rarely pausing to let us know what’s been happening for the last decade. It struck a bizarre tone in the theater as the anticipation to reunite with these characters was quickly replaced with groans as each joke landed with a tremendous thud.
Luckily Boris has a plan for earth. After commandeering a simple time-travel device he jumps back to the 1960’s to kill Agent K, destroy a device that protects earth; allowing him to invade with an army 40-years later. Of course, this means Agent J must follow him back in time and stop him before his partner meets a major alien buzz kill.
This rather elaborate plot wrinkle actually saves MIB III from disaster. Josh Brolin shows up as a young K who does a shockingly good Tommy Lee Jones voice. His presence alone gives the screen a big burst of energy. He and Smith are much more engaging for the last half of the film which also benefits from the bright colors and retro-goofiness of 1969. The quality gap with the prologue is so vast it’s as if the writers focused only on the last 1:15. Sans a couple stinkers even the jokes are universally better.
Another strength of MIB is the aliens. From a sentient blob on a table to a cross-eyed gremlin asking his parents for bail it is fun to see E.T. designs that stray from the boring tentacle-monsters of many recent invasion stories. The effects are not always effective (some look a bit unfinished) but for the most part they strike a good balance.
The first film benefited from a simple concept: the oddest humans on earth were all aliens in disguise living among us. It’s a brilliant construct but after two sequels Director Barry Sonnenfeld has played it out. The original Men in Black is a wonderful late-90’s relic that exists as a reminder that Hollywood can still find light, escapist fun in the summer blockbuster. It’s probably time for J and K to retire because 15-years later that sense of discovery of a once promising property is gone.