Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement
Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content
The slogan of all sequels is “the same, but different,” and “Men in Black III” succeeds admirably in that department. Thankfully, it seems to have gone back to the 1997 original for inspiration rather than the lackluster “Men in Black II” from 2002. This is a fun, lighthearted, exciting movie fans will love and newcomers can still enjoy.
Yes, it’s been ten years since we saw Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as Agents J and K, but they slide right back into their roles with ease. The tale this time around focuses on one Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), a thoroughly nasty alien criminal K put away early in his career. K calls it one of his biggest mistakes (“I should’ve killed him”) and that mistake comes back to haunt him — sort of. Boris escapes the super-max prison built specifically to hold him, and heads back in time to kill K before Boris’ arrest. Since arresting Boris ultimately led to the extinction of his nasty, genocidal race, stopping his apprehension results in a world-ending invasion of Earth. J has to go back in time to save K and with him, the world. J winds up collaborating with K from the past (Josh Brolin, who apparently was born to play a younger Tommy Lee Jones) and finding himself stumped at how the genial young K turned into the taciturn, cranky guy who’s been J’s partner for fourteen years. The answer, which we do get before the film’s end, may surprise you.
All the ingredients necessary for a “Men in Black” film are here: awesome aliens, big weapons, crazy tech, and lots of dry humor. The aliens, Boris especially, are wonderfully designed. Some of them — again, Boris especially — are more than a little creepy and gross, so if you’ve got kids who are terrified of creepy-crawlies or things with lots of teeth, don’t let them watch this.
The humor in the film is a little uneven at times, but mostly the same sly, self-referential stuff that made the first installment so popular. There are references galore scattered throughout the film, ready to reward the attentive fan. Watch for a background bit confirming what many have long suspected: Lady Gaga is indeed an alien.
Most importantly, though, “Men in Black III” has that most necessary component: it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The cast all seem to be having a fantastic time and commit 100% to their performances. Emma Thompson, who has replaced Rip Torn as J and K’s boss, brings all the gravitas of her acting career to her part, even when she has to ululate in an alien language at some length. Only Ms. Thompson could make yodeling look dignified.
Time travel is always hard to do right, and “Men in Black III” wisely doesn’t try to get too clever about it. The film just sort of handwaves everything and tells you to hang on for the ride. If you can do that, and embrace the silliness inherent in the premise, you’ll have a good time. If not, rent the original “Men in Black” and stay home.