Movie Review: “Men in Black III”

Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K

Ten years after “Men in Black II” was released, “Men in Black III” has finally come to the big screen despite many behind-the-scenes issues, including constant delays and a staggered filming schedule.

To take advantage of tax rebates in Manhattan, “Men in Black III” was split into two halves and each half was filmed a year apart from one another. The strange schedule also gave the crew time to work on the script, which was apparently unfinished while filming most of the very pricey film. The complicated filming process may have left a negative mark on the film, which takes nearly a half hour of awkwardness to really get going. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, who also directed the first two films, “Men in Black III” features some great 3D and due to some excellent casting, is light-years better than the disappointing prior film, though nowhere as good as the first.

“Men in Black III” opens when a very nasty alien villain named Boris the Animal (comedy God Jemaine Clement) breaks out of a high-security lunar prison, vowing revenge on Agent K, the man responsible for his one-armed status. Meanwhile, back on Earth, we’re thrown right back into the lives of Men in Black partners Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) as they go about their business of saving New York from misbehaving aliens and wiping the memories of witless human bystanders. It isn’t long before Boris’ revenge scheme works and K is wiped from present day, leaving it up to J to time jump back to 1969 to fix the damage and stop Boris from taking over planet Earth. After J pairs up with the young K (played to perfection by Josh Brolin), the two hustle to Cape Canaveral to attach a device, one that will protect Earth from Boris’ future invasion, to the nose of Apollo 11 before launch.

Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement ) escapes prison.

The first half hour of the film flounders. The interactions between J and K seem forced and pointless, while the action scenes simply go through the motions. The problem is that the film starts as if the previous installment had been released a month before instead of ten years before, and while it’s doubtful anyone really needs a refresher course on who these guys are, dropping the audience in the middle of a scene is discombobulating and uncomfortable.

Even the actors seem unsure how to play it; Will Smith’s mega-watt persona as J is toned down and Jones’ K is even more stoic and awkward than ever before. They still have great chemistry but it can’t save them from the fumbling script. It isn’t until J time jumps to 1969 that the film picks up and finds its identity, ultimately building to a surprisingly heartfelt climax.

Josh Brolin as Young Agent K, Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin, and Will Smith as Agent J

Josh Brolin (“No Country for Old Men” and “True Grit”) is disturbingly good as the 29-year-old K. With Brolin being 44, the age difference between him and the character he’s playing is incredibly effective and humorous, giving K his “city miles” at a young age. Everything from his vocal mimicry to his perfectly crafted gestures and physical ticks are dead-on Tommy Lee Jones.

Brolin is so good that you’ll find yourself doubting some remarks weren’t dubbed by Jones or that a specific scene isn’t actually Jones standing in. While he does a pitch-perfect impression of Jones’ K, Brolin actually brings something new to the character. He brings in a youthful vibrancy that’s optimistic and heartwarming, making the audience, and J, wonder just what happened to make him the gruff, isolated man of K’s future.

As fantastic as Brolin is, the obvious star of the film is fifth-dimensional alien Griffin (the outstanding Michael Stuhlbarg, “Boardwalk Empire). Griffin is able to see every possibly future outcome of every single possible situation. He instills a heartwarming quirkiness to every scene and his dialogue is the best written of the film, of many films actually. He’s even able to make poetry out of the variables surrounding a Mets game. Griffin helps K and J bond, especially while at The Factory, which is one of the best scenes in the film and features a prosthetic Bill Hader (“Saturday Night Live” and “Paul”) as Andy Warhol.

“Men in Black III” may have some flaws but it excels in enough areas that it is a perfectly fine film to enjoy at the theater. With a lot of humor derived from the transition from 2012 to 1969 (including old-school tech and aliens styled as the vintage science fiction images we expect from the 60s) and a tender ending that brings the story back to the very beginning, “Men in Black III” is an enjoyable extension of a well-loved franchise.

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Mila Pantovich also runs her own A&E blog, Reel Obsession, where all of her articles can be found.

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