Watching director Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black III it’s easy to tell that it’s a movie that went through troubles during production. Because of a stoppage and a script rewrite, the beginning, middle and end were not really planned together, and it shows in the final product. That said, it’s actually impressive that the film is as entertaining as it is.
The film begins when an evil alien known as Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement) manages to escape from a maximum security prison on the moon and vows to take revenge on the man that put him there: Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Using time travel, Boris goes back to 1969 – the year that his plans for world domination were thwarted – and kills the young Men in Black agent, leaving Agent J (Will Smith) living in a future without his longtime partner. After discovering what is going on, J travels back in time himself to both stop young K (Josh Brolin) from being murdered and save the world from Boris.
Men In Black III is riddled with enormous plotholes, from the suggestion that a main character doesn’t know that the first man landed on the moon in 1969 (is there anyone out there who doesn’t know this?) to inconsistencies in the time travel plot. For example, it is never explained why J remembers K, despite the fact that Boris went back and killed K years before J met him. These things gnaw on you while you’re watching the movie, but even worse is how they pile up on the ride home from the theater.
At the very least the script does give a good platform for the film’s uniformly great performances. After a four year break from movies – and an even longer break from straight comedies – Smith shows that he still has plenty of magnetism and charisma left, earning laughs with both his verbal timing and physical humor. Though it’s a tad gimmicky, Brolin puts in a magnificent turn using his impression of Tommy Lee Jones as the young Agent K. While few would have compared the two prior to seeing them working in this (even when they starred together in No Country For Old Men), Brolin disappears into the character and perfectly matches Jones’ mannerisms and sound. Surprisingly, it’s not Brolin who steals the show, but Michael Stuhlbarg. Playing an alien known as Griffin – a being that can see all possible timelines and variations of universes at once – Stuhlbarg is a thrill to watch as he rapidly thinks out loud about what’s going to happen next and worries about the most negative of outcomes. It’s a wonderful performance backed with an interesting character design and the highlight of the movie.
It's ultimately a sense of fun that keeps Men in Black III afloat. Once the movie finally travels back to the late 60s, the story actually gets interesting and is just clever enough to keep the audience’s attention. As with the other films in the series, there are many Easter Eggs hidden throughout, from the revelation that Tim Burton and Yao Ming are both aliens on monitors in the Men in Black headquarters, to the great cameo by Bill Hader as Andy Warhol, who is just an undercover MIB agent out of ideas (“I’m just painting soup cans and bananas”). As a whole the movie still makes very little sense, but at least it doesn’t hurt your throat while you’re swallowing it.
Perhaps Men In Black III’s greatest accomplishment is washing the terrible taste of the second movie out of our mouths and bringing us back closer to the level of entertainment from the first movie. It has far too many problems to be considered good, but if you’ve already seen everything else in theaters you could do a lot worse.
For our To 3D or not to 3D guide to Men in Black 3, go HERE.