The original “Men in Black” was a truly remarkable film that managed to blur the lines between science fiction and comedy, in the process propelling the movie career of Will Smith and cementing Tommy Lee Jones’s legacy as a Hollywood icon. Its sequel, “Men in Black II,” proved to be an absolutely dismal failure, and it’s unfortunate that neuralyzers could not really exist to wipe that flop from memory. “Men in Black 3” very easily could have been just as bad, but the third installment happily lives up to the high standard set by the first film. While by no means superior, “Men in Black 3” does recapture the magic of the original and serves as a satisfying continuation of the series.
Fifteen years after first pairing up, Agents J and K (Smith and Jones, respectfully) of the Men in Black are still partners in the effort to protect Earth from malicious aliens. However, J finds himself alone and bewildered when a particularly vicious extraterrestrial from K’s past travels back in time and assassinates him, altering the future as a result. In order to save his friend and the world, J must also go to 1969 and team up with K’s younger self. By doing so, J will discover things about his partner and himself that will forever change their relationship.
Time travel has been dealt with in a countless number of movies, and “Men in Black 3” indeed does not do anything groundbreaking with it. Rather, the plot device is used as a means to explore the backgrounds of the characters and give extra dimensions to their personalities. It is refreshing to see an established film franchise reexamine its beloved characters to discover why they act the way they do. Most sequels are flimsy copies of the first movie, but “Men in Black 3” really breaks the mold, providing a new perspective on the friendship between Agents J and K.
Smith and Jones are just as good playing J and K as they were in 1997, with Smith effectively mixing emotion and humor in his acting while Jones brings just the right amount of curmudgeonly charm. It’s only a shame that Jones is in the movie for a relatively short period of time. But it’s Josh Brolin, one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, who steals the show with his spot-on performance as the young Agent K. From his speech cadence to his accent to his mannerisms, Brolin gives an astounding impression of Jones that never crosses the line into cheesiness. In supporting roles, Jemaine Clement plays the most menacing of the Men in Black villains and Michael Stuhlbarg is intriguing as a precognitive alien.
“Men in Black 3” is a pleasure to watch and a must-see for fans of the franchise. If it truly is the conclusion of the series (as director Barry Sonnenfeld has indicated), then the third installment certainly is a fitting send-off. Of course, the characters of Men in Black are interesting enough that it does not have to be the end, and more sequels would be welcome if they are as good as “Men in Black 3.”
The Setonian gives this movie 4 out 5 stars!
Sean Quinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.