Though the biggest movie of the year has probably already opened with The Avengers, Memorial Day weekend is the traditional kickoff of summer movie season. The model has clearly changed as the offerings this weekend are on the lackluster side, with Men in Black 3 being the flashiest of the bunch. While it won’t break any box office records or probably win any awards, Men in Black 3 is a fine, if not ultimately pretty forgettable, film. If you are a fan of the earlier movies in the franchise, then this will be right up your alley.
It’s debatable if this film is even really necessary; it’s been ten years since the Men in Black 2 debuted and I don’t really remember there ever being a groundswell of support for another film, perhaps because the second film wasn’t all that good. Clearly everyone involved felt like there was still some money to be made from this venture. Maybe Will Smith is having some money problems or wanted to resurrect his film career.
Men in Black 3 finds Agents J (Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) still working together and maintaining their uneasy friendship while they keep an eye on the aliens that walk among us on Earth. The trouble starts when alien Boris the Animal (the unrecognizable Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Concords) escapes his lunar prison with revenge on his mind. Boris plans to go back in time to kill Agent K, the man who arrested him and cost him one of his arms. By eliminating K, Boris can also undo the chain of events that protected the planet Earth from his alien race’s invasion and prevent their ultimate extinction. J has to go back to 1969 to prevent Boris from being successful and to save his partner and Earth from peril.
I felt a little ridiculous even typing all that.
While the whole time travel thing has been done before in plenty of other films, it was a nice way to reinvigorate the movie and freshen up the franchise. I don’t know how much mileage they could have gotten out of more of the same of Smith and Jones chasing aliens and Jones being cantankerous. With time travel, they get some new blood with the introduction of Josh Brolin as 1969 version of Agent K. Brolin’s inclusion in the film is what made me interested; I think he generally does good work (he was a GOONIE, for goodness sake) and I was interested to see how he would pull off what was basically a Tommy Lee Jones impersonation. Brolin does a fine job and I think captures Jones pretty well; he is definitely one of the best things about the film. Without his inclusion, this movie would have been a rehash of the previous two movies. Smith is at his affable best; he definitely has on screen presence and delivers during the film’s one emotional scene. I’ve kind of grown tired of him mugging his way through these kinds of films and wish he would return to more serious roles; I thought he was quite good in Ali and would like to see him do more of that type of work. Clement was a fun bad guy, though I spent half the movie trying to figure out who the actor was behind Boris due to the makeup and special effects. I knew I knew the voice, but I just couldn’t place it until I looked it up on IMDB.
Also distracting was trying to determine if Howard Stern had a cameo in the movie. It sure looked like him during the film, but this screen grab makes me think that it was his impersonator. You decide.
I do appreciate that the movie did acknowledge, however briefly, that as a man of color, 1969 might not be the most desirable destination for Agent J. They don’t dwell on it – Men in Black is not the right vehicle for social commentary – but I’m glad that they didn’t gloss over it either. A few jokes were made and then they moved on, which I thought was just right.
The special effects of the alien creatures that they encounter deserves special recognition as I thought that they were quite impressive and creative. While the aliens tend toward the cartoony side of the spectrum, they are very well done and show a lot of ingenuity. The woman sitting behind me at the screening apparently was impressed as well, as she insisted on saying “Oh my God” every time a new creature made its appearance. Believe me – it got tiresome.
Even with the addition of Brolin and the likability of Smith, the film just didn’t hold my attention throughout. I’ve never been a huge MIB fan; in fact, I couldn’t even remember if I had seen the second movie (spoiler: I had). The movie isn’t bad, but it is a little too inconsequential for my tastes. There were a few funny moments, but I found the rest of the plot pretty predictable and by the numbers. I don’t know if they thought that the reveal at the end was going to be a surprise, but I saw where they were going to end up in the first act. There was still some sweetness and nice moments, but this is probably not a movie that I would have chosen to go to if a) it wasn’t free and b) I didn’t write a pop culture blog. Older kids might get a kick out of the film – little ones might be a little frightened by some of the aliens – but I think adults will generally find this kind of meh. Like I said out the outset, I’m not sure that this was a movie that really needed to be made. But it is harmless and certainly not a terrible way to spend an hour and 45 minutes. It just wouldn’t be my first choice.
Men in Black 3 generally works as a standalone movie; a basic knowledge of what the Men in Black do might be helpful, but it is pretty easy to figure out the gist of it from the context of this film. So if you’ve never seen the previous films and are curious about this one, I don’t think you’ll be at any disadvantage. This isn’t Lost.
The one thing that I appreciate the most about Men in Black 3 has nothing to do with the movie itself, but with one of its tie-ins with Dunkin Donuts. I’m a big fan of the iced Black Mocha Cream coffee that is being sold in promotion of the movie. It’s fantastic and I could drink it every morning. If this movie had to be made for me to get that drink, it was worth it.
Men in Black 3 is a perfectly ok film and is a definite improvement over the previous film in the trilogy. But it isn’t a must see and it is fairly disposable; this is not a movie you’ll be talking about after you see it. If you have enjoyed the series in the past, you’ll like this. If your kids drag you to it, it isn’t torture. But you can probably find better ways to spend your time at the cinema.
Men in Black 3 opens nationwide today.