This 3rd Black proves you can’t go back
Proving again how hard it is to recapture the magic of a well-executed first installment, “Men in Black III” falls far short of the 1997 original. Though there are a few highlights, surprisingly, megastar Will Smith isn’t one of them.
It’s not that the likeable and proven talent Smith is unwatchable reprising his role as “Agent J” who was recruited by laconic and all-business “Agent K” (Tommy Lee Jones). It’s just that the former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s streetwise shtick feels so, well, 1997.
Still, the 60s flashback plot, the performance of Josh Brolin as a young “Agent K,” and some terrific (if not pioneering) special effects will keep you interested—especially if you can overlook the time travel inconsistencies. (Not an easy task for the fastidious movie fan).
When dangerous alien Boris the Animal (a barely recognizable Jermaine Clement) escapes from prison and the truth of his revenge mission involving K is learned, J must go back in time not only to save his partner, but mankind as well. The fun starts in earnest with the appearance of Brolin and his spot-on mimicry of a young Tommy Lee Jones. We learn a little bit more about why K is who he is, but not to much comedic effect.
This very talky update goes long stretches with little action to propel it forward, relying primarily on the introduction of creative alien creatures and plenty of visual flair. Some moments with J tenuously atop the Chrysler Building, and ending shots involving a historic space launch are entertainingly vertigo-inducing (especially in the 3D version).
But by the arrival of the rather unexpectedly touching last act, “Men in Black III” feels like more of a nostalgia-pandering patience tester than a satisfying standalone film. Even three terrific performances (Emma Thompson, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Bill Hader) feel underdeveloped despite their scene-stealing moments. And then there’s the time travel conundrum so common in film today – in this case rearing its ugly head in the final moments that make completely unnecessary the film’s entire premise.
But let’s not overthink “Men in Black III.” For many, that will be the key to enjoying this third installment.
For the rest of us, a blast from the past alone can only go so far.
Rated PG-13 for science-fiction violence and suggestive content.
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