Before this weekend, I would have sworn no one was clamoring for a third installment in the Men In Black franchise. You can imagine my astonishment at the film’s $55 million opening-weekend haul. The original Men in Black came out nearly 15 years ago, and it marked the start of Will Smith’s status as a bankable star at the box office. But after a lackluster sequel released a decade ago, pop culture seemed to have moved on. There didn’t seem to be much lingering popularity for the characters, or nostalgic hunger for more sequels from audiences. Yet, here we have it, a movie no one seemed to be asking for, and which does exactly what sequels should do and nothing more.
This “perfectly fine” approach has the inherent drawback of mediocrity, and it also means that your mileage will vary depending on how much of a damn—if any—you give for these characters.
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones return as the odd couple of Agent J and Agent K, respectively, who work as “Men in Black,” a sort of intergalactic police department that monitors extraterrestrial life here on Earth. The film follows the standard MIB plot of saving the world from aliens, but this time with the added twist of time travel, as J is beamed back to the 1960s to stop K from being murdered by a megalomaniacal, revenge-bent alien assassin named Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement).
The time-travel angle works more as a gimmick than as an actual plot device, creating a handful of culture-shock and fish-out-of-water moments and little else. The retro look is welcome and leads to at least one pseudo-inspired scene involving Bill Hader as Andy Warhol, but there’s no real point to most of it. My guess is that the very tired-looking Jones has a smart agent who managed to finagle a way for him to sit out most of this silliness. In his stead is Josh Brolin as the young K of the past, who steals the movie with a spot-on impersonation of Jones. The film revolves around K’s character, promising to enlighten anyone who’s been sitting around for a decade-and-a-half wondering why he’s so grumpy.
This is what’s promised, at least. The film leaves this and other plot threads dangling, lost inside an avalanche of faulty internal logic. Of course, logic and plot are the least of MIB 3—or its audience’s—concerns. The basic formula simply involves lots of weird aliens (a mixed bag that oscillates between impressive make-up effects and cheap CGI), some comedy and a smidgen of action. I can’t imagine a more loyal sequel to a nearly 15-year-old movie than this one, but that’s part of the problem—there’s a dated feel to all of it. Maybe the blame lies with director Barry Sonnenfeld—who has spent several years in TV exile after making the terrible RV (2006)—and who has made a movie that moves and feels like a really expensive TV show. Or maybe it’s just Will Smith doing his stock wise-ass schtick, looking—for the first time—just a bit too old to be playing that type of character. Whatever it is—the script, the casting, the direction, the whole superfluousness of it all—allows MIB 3 to be the perfectly suitable sequel to its predecessors. It’s also why you’ll forget it ever existed in a few months. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content.