Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld
Written by: Etan Cohen, David Koepp, Jeff Nathanson, Michael Soccio and Lowell Cunningham (comic)
Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Jermaine Clement and Josh Brolin
It’s hard to believe that the original Men In Black was released 15 years ago. 19friggen97! Will Smith was an established pop musician and T.V star, but was still on the precipice of discovering his true cinematic pulling power. The original film was a monetary and critical success. Director Barry Sonnenfeld used the Lowell Cunningham comic source material and a fun script from Ed Solomon (Bill and Ted) to uncover the ‘truth’ of the great staple of Alien invasion folklore (the ‘Men In Black’ from a nameless government organisation). It was a fun buddy-cop alien invasion mash-up that still holds up remarkably well on repeat viewings. Right now writing this I’m suppressing the urge to do my Vincent D’Onofrio “SHHUGGGGERRR…IN….WHATTTTTERRRRRRR” impression. The sequel MiB 2, released in 2002, was terrible. A decade later they’re attempting to reignite the franchise.
Agent J (Will Smith) must travel back in time to 1969, to intercept an evil alien ‘Boris the Animal’(Jermaine ‘Flight of the Concords’ Clement) from assassinating his partner Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones [present] and Josh Brolin [past]) and changing the future.
A big positive for me is that the events of the second film are essentially ignored. The off world love story nonsense is all gone. The third film doesn’t get itself caught up with the same tropes of the original story, where J is having his eyes open to this new world. Barry Sonnenfeld does a good job of diving you into the action and contrasting the modern MiB futuristic aesthetic with kitsch couture and machinery of the late 60s. Everything’s bigger, slower, and there’s even a moment where you here the dial up modem sound that gave me a chuckle. J’s now an accomplished Agent, so when news of Boris’ escape from a MiB prison facility reaches him, he’s surprised by the fact that he’s still being kept in the dark by the agency and his partner. The script is no Coen Bros. effort but it’s a light, fun, sci fi adventure fare – tonally more a sequel to the original than the second film.
The chemistry between J (Will Smith) and K (TLJ) has been an integral part of the franchise, it uses the Back to the Future technique of going back to find the origins of the character. The trip back to the past is used to great effect. Josh Brolin’s K is amazing and he’s able to bring a brightness and a charm back to the character that the grizzled and gruff older K character has been lacking since the original film. Brolin’s the breath of fresh air that the franchise needs.
Tommy Lee Jones is war weary in MiB3 – he’s intentionally more grizzled and tired (15 years since the original will do that to you) than the K of the original. He’s always good in his all too brief screen time. Will Smith’s performance is akin to the J of the original – having fun adding his flair to the job that his more staunch and serious counterparts are unable to do. He’s definitely trying to inject the humour into every situation, which on a number of occasions results in it feeling like he’s trying too hard. It’s not his best performance, but he redelivers on the audiences expectations of the character.
One of the staple jokes of the MiB series is the celebrity cameos that suggest alien origins. It’s something that’s usually happening on the screens in the war room that gives that ‘picture in picture’ chuckles to compliment the goings on. But this time there’s two sensational cameos in the past/alternate futures- one is the MiB inside man in the NYC art scene and J’s new partner in the alternate future are highlights of the movie (that I won’t spoil).
MiB 3 does justice to the fun and whimsy of the original, and gives you a surprisingly emotional insight into the characters – it travelled back in time to save this franchise from dying.