‘Black’ To The Future
“Men in Black 3”
Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Hard to believe that it’s been four years since Will Smith graced the big screen with his presence, and even longer since he starred in a movie that was any good. “Hancock” and “Seven Pounds” (both from 2008) were easily seen as two of his worst movies, so you’d have to go back to 2007’s “I Am Legend” to find one of his best.
So while Smith’s return to big-budget Hollywood moviemaking in “Men in Black 3” may seem like a sure thing after the first installment made him a superstar back in 1997, it’s actually anything but. For one thing, its follow-up sequel, 2002’s “Men in Black 2,” was a box office disappointment and a critical disaster, and after a ten-year gap, it’s not like anyone was hungry for a third serving. In addition, “Men in Black 3” was a notoriously troubled production that had to shut down for three months while returning director Barry Sonnenfeld worked out problems with the script.
So, the fact that “Men in Black 3” works as well as it does is due to a number of factors. First, of course, is Smith, whose super-charismatic presence proves that he’s still one of the biggest stars in the world (next to Tom Cruise). Second, while the film falls short of the first “Men in Black” – if only because it lacks that film’s sense of discovery – the time travel story (written by Etan Cohen) reinvigorates the series with a fresh sense of fun that’s reminiscent of 1985’s “Back to the Future.” And finally, there’s Josh Brolin, whose hilarious turn as the younger version of the character made famous by Tommy Lee Jones is alone worth the price of admission.
After busting the scum of the universe together for 15 years, longtime partners Agent J (Smith) and Agent K (Jones) have fallen into a rut. They’re going through the motions, but when a vicious alien named Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) goes back in time to settle an old score with Agent K, Agent J follows him to the year 1969 and works with Agent K’s younger self (Brolin) to save his life and restore the original timeline.
After a few amusing cameos from the likes of Emma Thompson (as Agent O) and Will Arnett (as Agent J’s partner in the alternate timeline), “Men in Black 3” falls into a fun and entertaining groove that takes place in the days before the historic launch of Apollo 11. Make-up Effects artist Rick Baker follows suit by designing the aliens with the same retro-cheesy style as those found on classic science fiction TV shows that aired back in the day, like “The Outer Limits” and the original “Star Trek.” And no surprise that “Men in Black 3” is in 3-D, but the special effects are spectacular, and the added dimension manages to sustain itself for the duration of the movie.
Since most of the action takes place in 1969, grumpy Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t have a lot of screen time as Agent K, and the film is probably all the better for it. Playing his younger self is Josh Brolin, who not only captures Jones’ mannerisms and Texas drawl perfectly, but he also surpasses mere imitation with a fully realized and quite funny performance that’s right on the money.
“Men in Black 3” loses some of its momentum during the second half, which can be a little slow at times. So while it doesn’t represent a series best along the lines of “Fast Five” or “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” the last act has a surprising plot twist that seals the movie with a heartwarming payoff. The result is a better-than-expected third installment that not only qualifies as a return to form, but it also fully confirms why Will Smith is still one of the biggest stars on the planet, if not the universe.
Verdict: SEE IT!
-- Scott Mantz