Men in Black 3 Review: A Retrospective of the series
Every year there’s that one movie that was never on your radar because you either wrote it off as a dumb idea, something that wouldn’t interest you or a lazy sequel that you had no interest in seeing; but then you finally see it and it blows away your expectations and winds up being a good movie that took it’s time to tell a story with characters that are unique and fleshed out.
Well for me that movie in 2012 is Men in Black 3.
I remember when I first heard about this movie being made as I immediately wrote it off as a Hollywood cash grab. I mean this series was absolutely dead in the water after Men in Black 2 right? Will Smith was badly in need of a hit that would bring him back to the summer blockbuster scene so he was just resurrecting one of his old franchises right? Well, maybe… but they also stumbled upon a pretty good script that had the idea to bring back the entertainment value of the first movie without shoving another recycled “Hey remember this scene?” montage of moments down our throats.
Look, I really like the first Men in Black movie, hell I’d even say that I love it. For me it’s that perfect blend of Sci-Fi and Comedy with enough action and creativity sprinkled into it that it becomes a sort of “mini classic” in my mind (I.E Galaxy Quest). So of course I was a pumped up 15 year old in the summer of 2002 just waiting for Agents J and K to blast through aliens while making me laugh my ass off. But then the lights dimmed down I got some ball jokes, a talking dog as their new partner and Johnny Knoxville with multiple heads. Wait-what? The sequel is such a horrendously dull piece of celluloid that I can’t even bring myself to watch it again when I see random portions of it on cable. It’s mind-numbingly bad in the absolute worst way possible: It tries to bring back moments from the first movie that crash and burn over and over again.
Why did the first movie work so well? The chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones was nearly perfect. You have the young hotshot who’s constantly trying to prove himself to the older, disapproving “father figure” type that has added weight since Jay’s character grew up without a father. You have the salty, grizzled veteran who’s grooming a replacement and is slowly coming to grips with the fact that he’s just not cut out for the job anymore. They become partners. Hilarity ensues. It was a simple formula that matched up perfectly to the two actor’s skill sets, and it was clear with the ending of the first movie that they just weren’t planning for a sequel…. but you know Hollywood! Men in Black is a massive hit, rakes in a ton of money, cements Will Smith as a mega-star, creates a crap-ton of merchandise and morphs into a franchise that can rake in cash by simply just mentioning the name. So inevitably, there was a sequel right? Well the first one ended with Tommy Lee Jones walking into the sunset and retiring with his memory wiped clean of the events that just happened in the movie so we should probably move on.
Insert horrendous script that tries to fix that ending but completely fails by reversing the roles of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones thus bringing them out of their comfort zones and in turn killing their chemistry and the heart of the franchise. If someone wanted to know how to fail at making a sequel than Men in Black II should be memorized since it’s practically the guide book for it.
But that must also mean that Men in Black III is the blueprint for “How to resurrect your franchise from a shitty, franchise killing sequel”.. and I loved that about it.
This movie brings back Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones and inserts them into their original roles from the first movie. Their chemistry is as strong as it was before, Will Smith is as charming as ever (albeit with more acting talent and range than he had 15 years ago) and the plot actually makes sense! It seems like time travel has become a “quick fix” in today’s mainstream blockbusters but between Looper and Men in Black 3 (I can’t believe I just compared those two movies) I’d say that the writers are learning how to handle it with care. I’m also thankful for the time travel plot in this movie because it brought us Josh Brolin’s incredible performance as a Young Agent K that literally mirrors Tommy Lee Jones in every single nuance. Brolin nailed everything from the looks, voice, mannerisms and even subtle things like the way he tilts his head while talking or how he hunches over when he’s sitting at a diner. This was one of my favorite performances of the year because it was so damn spot-on that I found myself forgetting that I was watching an actor impersonating another one and believing that I was watching the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones. It really was that good. Throw in some surprisingly heavy emotional drama towards the end of the flick and you have the perfect recipe for a Men in Black sequel. It had enough references to the first movie that it wasn’t overbearing or eye-rolling and to be honest, they were handled with a certain type of care and maturity that I wasn’t expecting to see.
It’s simple: if you liked the first movie but hated the second and was writing this one off with the thinking that it would be more like the latter you shouldn’t be worried, because this was a damn good sequel that might be my biggest surprise of the year. Strongly Recommended.