MEN IN BLACK 3
**1/2 (out of 5)
May 25, 2012
Will Smith as AGENT J
Tommy Lee Jones as AGENT K
Josh Brolin as YOUNG AGENT K
Jemaine Clement as BORIS THE ANIMAL
Emma Thompson as AGENT O
Michael Stuhlbarg as GRIFFIN
Alice Eve as YOUNG AGENT O
Directed by: Barry Sonnefeld
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
As far back as I can remember, any summer movie season has been loaded with sequels. This goes back to my childhood in the 80s, but the trend goes back even farther. (So all of you hipsters out there bemoaning the lack of originality in Hollywood needs to realize this is nothing new, and your complaint has no originality in it.) However, today we have the luxury of home video, which allows us to rewatch all the original films for the remakes and any previous installments to catch up on before seeing a sequel.
I’ve been doing this a lot recently, showing my kids the entire “Star Wars” catalog after taking them to see “The Phantom Menace” in 3D. A couple weeks ago, I sat down with the family to watch all the Marvel movies leading up to “The Avengers.” I also made a point to watch all the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies last year, and I even chewed through a couple episodes of “Dark Shadows” before seeing the Tim Burton update.
I own both “Men in Black” and “Men in Black II.” However, I had no desire to revisit those films before seeing “Men in Black 3.” And this is probably part of the reason I wasn’t wild about the movie.
Even though it’s been ten years since the last installment of this franchise, I’m bored with the whole shtick. I’m bored with Will Smith’s too-cool-for-school attitude. I’m bored with the silly alien sci-fi puns. I’m bored with time travel plots that run through the same beats. If you’re not bored with these things, you might enjoy “Men in Black 3,” as evidenced by the mixed (read as: not dreadful) reviews coming from my colleagues.
The whole film just seemed unnecessary. This isn’t like the excitement surrounding the release of the fourth “Indiana Jones” film (regardless of what critics said afterwards). This isn’t like the anticipation for new “Star Wars” movies in the late 1990s. This isn’t even like all the hopeful buzz about a potential “Ghostbusters 3” (which will never get off the ground, no matter how much people want it to). I just never got the sense that anyone – aside from maybe Will Smith and Barry Sonnefeld – wanted another “Men in Black” movie.
And this is evidenced by the woefully unoriginal story. In this third film, Agent J (Smith) has to travel back in time to 1969 to stop the intergalactic bounty hunter Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) from killing Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). If J fails, this will lead to the destruction of the Earth back in 2012.
I like a good time travel story, ironically more than most people do. However, this paint-by-numbers script for “Men in Black 3” reflects a copycat approach to movies like “The Santa Clause 3,” “Shrek the Third” and even the direct-to-video Disney cartoon “Cinderella III: A Twist in Time.” Haven’t we already seen all the fish-out-of water 60s culture jokes in the “Austin Powers” movies already? You want an Andy Warhol gag? It’s there. You want a civil rights joke? They’re there, too. Nothing about “Men in Black 3” is remotely original.
Stepping back a bit from my fatigue from these elements, I’ll admit there are still some fun elements in the mix. The tone is there from the original films, which is also part of their problems. The whole “Men in Black” thing was so thoroughly 90s just as “The Breakfast Club” was so thoroughly 80s. Back when “Men in Black” first came out, “The X-Files” was a massive hit television series and the 50th anniversary of Roswell was happening.
But fifteen years later, the cultural milieu has changed. It’s not far enough in the past to be cool and retro; it just plays as being out-of-date. Even the ever-charismatic Will Smith can’t rise above it, falling back into his early acting shtick that he has shown he can rise above as an actor. Yet, Smith drops his own time bombs like “pimp slap” and “shiznit,” which probably haven’t been said by any self-respecting person since the release of “Men in Black II” ten years ago.
So much of this film rides on Will Smith’s shoulders, and that’s a shame. There is real promise in Josh Brolin’s dead-on impression of Tommy Lee Jones. However, Smith’s massive galactic-sized ego won’t let him take center stage. This extends to the rest of the cast, which turns out to be featured extras in this Will Smith focus piece.
This represents the tragic flaw in the film, giving us one of the weakest villains in the series. Where Vincent D’Onofrio stole the show in “Men in Black,” Jemaine Clement is given just a basic wireframe model of a bad guy as Boris the Animal. While I think Clement is a fantastic actor (who made movies like “Gentlemen Broncos,” “Dinner for Schmucks” and “Rio” all the more better), his talents are squandered as one of the most forgettable villains this summer season. In fact, the villain is so forgettable that the movie literally forgets about him for a half and hour in order for Will Smith to hog the camera.
In the end, we’re left with a lackluster, overly cheesy film desperately trying to grasp hold of something that was hip and cool more than a decade ago. I don’t think anyone really asked for this movie, but we got it anyway. And it feels just like that.