Men in Black 3 tells a good story that hinges significantly on the characters, who they are, and the choices they make. This makes for a solid movie, one which is significantly better than Men in Black 2, but which really ought to put the franchise to bed.
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Released May 25, 2012
Written by Etan Cohen, based on the comic by Lowell Cunningham
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring Emma Thompson, Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Alice Eve, and Michael Stuhlbarg
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When a very bad alien named Boris (Clement) escapes from containment, he wants to undo the past by killing Agent K (Jones) before K has a chance to lock him up. So Boris finds a time machine and gets it done.
That’s right, K dies.
But Agent J (Smith), inexplicably at the beginning of the story, has retained some memory of K, despite everyone else thinking K died forty years previous. He and the new head of the Men in Black division, Agent O (Thompson), decide J has to go back in time to stop Boris from killing K. Also, it turns out that if Boris succeeds in killing K in the past, the world will be in danger of total annihilation (spelled that right on the first try).
Amidst this story, J has been wondering what it is that makes K so taciturn and gruff. As the plot unfolds, we get a very revealing look at K’s history and we begin to see how choices can affect our entire lives. So his knowledge of modern K influences how he sees the younger version of K, played to a startlingly excellent nuance by Josh Brolin.
As the partners chase down two versions of Boris, they encounter an inspired character in Griffin (Stuhlbarg), who can see multiple futures all at once. For him, each possible future is a mural he can peruse until one future is decided upon. Stuhlbarg makes this character sensitive, on constant edge, and just all around wonderful. Stuhlbarg had better get more work after this.
The story climaxes atop the Apollo 11 rocket mission to land on the moon.
The plot of Men in Black 3 is easily as complex as that of Men in Black 2, but the focus on characters makes it much easier to follow and much more engaging. That said, it’s still a little swiss cheesy. While the characters are full and we get to see a lot of K as a younger agent, we still don’t really get what happened to him to make him so grumpy. Also, surely when Boris grabbed the time travel device he saw that there was another one. Why didn’t he take that one too, or destroy it, rather than leave it there for someone to use to try to stop him?
Then there’s the gentle dip into race relations in 1969. It’s effective and just right. Will Smith’s at his comedic best in the moments when he has moments of clarity that reveal he’s just done or said something stupid.
Josh Brolin is absolutely the star of this installment. He plays Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K perfectly, but without the baggage that K apparently carries around. The well of comedy between modern J and younger K is deep and well dipped into.
With all that’s good and intelligent and well-acted about Men in Black 3, it just doesn’t have the spark that the first one had, despite it being smarter and having more robust characters. Maybe it’s the lack of Rip Torn as the edgy and random Z. Maybe it’s that we’ve seen Will Smith mug and goof off like this before. Maybe it’s that the final two scenes try hard to answer a few questions, and they brim with emotional potential, but that they instead seem to set up the franchise for further additions.
All in all, Men in Black 3 is a solid, entertaining film that uses talented actors to tell an enjoyable story but that isn’t quite sure whether it’s the final chapter in the story or the beginning of a brand new branch in the story’s tree. I say let this be the end, despite a few questions remaining.
Also, if you’re going to use Emma Thompson in a movie, give her a better role, Sonnenfeld.
Content warnings: mild bad language and gross alien violence.
Writing: 4 Acting: 4 Overall: 4
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