Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
While strange for a Men in Black film to open with something other than a crashing spaceship, I’ll admit to being ecstatic for the alternative. Having the sexy Nicole Scherzinger lead us into the maximum-security prison housing one of the universe’s most notorious criminals definitely didn’t hurt either. What I really enjoyed about the pre-credit sequence to Men in Black III, however, was that our introduction to Bogladite destroyer, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), seemed to get the series back on track as far as giving a serious adversary to rally against. Retaining a darkly humorous edge much like Vincent D’Onofrio‘s incomparable Edgar from the first, all memory of the campy antagonists from the woeful sequel were washed away. Clement’s deep, villainous Bowie-esque growl definitely set the stage for a fight worth caring about as far as sci-fi action comedies go.
This was a good sign, considering director Barry Sonnenfeld had his work cut out for him as four screenwriters put their stamp on the script. Etan Cohen wrote the first draft after star Will Smith pitched time traveling way back in 2002; David Koepp did extensive rewrites; Jeff Nathanson reworked an extended sequence taking place in 1969; and Smith’s friend Michael Soccio joined the fray to help ‘punch-up’ his buddy’s role. With so many hats in the ring, details about production beginning without a finalized script, and a work stoppage in order to fix third act plot holes, no one could say the press was optimistic. And while parts do work much better than others, I still believe all involved created a much more enjoyable sequel that harkens back to the original’s tone and stays truer to the characters originally establishment fifteen years ago.
MiB headquarters has changed with a new chief—Agent O (Emma Thompson)—and an even starker white sterility, but Jay (Smith) and Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) remain the top duo for catastrophic events as the miles of cynical sarcasm between them keep the atmosphere light despite the danger their jobs hold. Jokes based on the generational gap separating them won’t suffice this time around, though, as the impending war has become personal. Kay was not only the arresting officer forty years prior when Boris attempted to erase Earth from the stars, but also the human who took his arm. Vengeance drives the Bogladite to change the course of history by going back in time to regain his freedom, kill his enemy, and prevent the installation of the Arknet system from protecting our planet from his species’ malicious intent.
Just as he goes back to stop the future, Jay follows suit after realizing a temporal shift has deleted his partner from existence. Coercing electronics guru Jeffrey Price (Michael Chernus) into giving him a time traveling device, Jay jumps from the Chrysler building and lands in the not so friendly past of 1969. It’s a mission to save his friend, avenge the planet, and finally learn what turned Kay so surly and emotionally despondent. The first two ends eventually become second-fiddle to the third as all heroics pale in comparison to discovering how the stony smile in love with a much younger O (Alice Eve) and still possessing a subtle sense of humor turned to hardened granite. And boy does Josh Brolin make this revelation a blast with his spot-on impression of Jones.
This is where Men in Black III shines, in a world ingrained with peace and love about to launch a man to the moon. The set-up is necessary to establish Boris’ animosity and Jay’s desire to save his best friend, but it quickly devolves into broadly absurd humor with chocolate milk cravings proving time rifts and Smith’s convoluted neuralyzing stories. In fact, without Clement’s menacing performance, the film’s start would have sadly been right where the second installment left off. It thus becomes Jay’s arrival to the past that finally gets the plot in motion as Smith and Brolin are superb with the latter’s ability to be mildly amused by the former only making their rapport better. These characters don’t miss a beat and their chase of both present and future Boris recalls the fun and excitement had back in 1997.
Despite Clement being a bit of a force, his penchant for off-putting humor is retained with creepy laughter and over-the-top theatrics. One exchange held opposite his younger self had me in stitches—his shtick an acquired taste I welcome. With a couple brief cameos from the likes of Bill Hader to satisfy your funny bone and some Easter eggs like two background references to everyone’s favorite pug Frank, those turned off by the Kiwi should still have reason to laugh. And with the advancements in computer technology, one must mention that the special effects here are light years from the clunky green screen of Part II. Boris, centrifugal force motorcycles, the brilliant fall through time, and a seamless overlap of futures courtesy of Michael Stuhlberg‘s scene-stealing Griffin never take you out of the story due to shoddy craftsmanship.
Although I do think one bit of time travel confuses due to its lack of duplicity and that Kay’s loss of joy could have been better served with an end to the series altogether, Men in Black III is still a nice return to form. Experiencing MiB in its infancy with MRI-size neuralizers adds charm and Brolin’s turn really makes the transition through time smooth. Worth checking out for he and Stuhlberg alone, Smith also hasn’t lost a step in his ability to be overly confident and completely inept at the same time. He chose well using a familiar vehicle to return to theatres after a four-year hiatus and may actually bridge the gap into making audiences believe he never left. And while I’d have been happier if Men in Black never became a franchise, this entry does wash some of the last one’s bitter taste from my mouth.
Men in Black III releases wide on Friday, May 25th.
Latest posts from The Film Stage