15 years after the first film in the series, the guys who gave you Men in Black return for a third installment. Will the time gap prove a challenge for the franchise? How will this movie fare in and of itself?
The film revolves around the relationship of the central characters Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Whilst carrying out a routine operation it transpires that it is a ruse to lure Agent K to face a very dangerous foe – Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement). K thought had been securely locked away on the moon following an effort to lead a conquest of the earth of his kind. Finally breaking out of his prison, the one-armed Boris the Animal – or just Boris as he insists – goes looking to kill the man who stopped his conquest and also got rid of his other arm. Failing in his quest to off K in the present thanks to the timing of J, Boris decides to go back to the time when he initially lost his battle with the grisly agent, and change history.
When this mission succeeds and reality is altered, J is the only person who remembers how things are meant to go. So he is commissioned to go back in time himself and change things to how they should be in the process getting to see how his partner became the way he was by encountering the much younger Agent K (Josh Brolin).
Action films are not for people to get overly critical concerning subtle nuances and theoretical lapses. They are primarily there for people to invest in the lead characters and then get involved in the fun of the action of the film. Will Smith remains a charismatic figure in the films and he knows how to get involved in films that plays to his strengths. The MiB series was one that was a platform for his style almost as the Beverley Hills Cop deal was a platform for Eddie Murphy and the Dirty Harry series served Clint Eastwood. Having said that, as with other franchise vehicles, after a few movies it can get tiresome seeing the same tricks played out. So in as much as this film has its funny moments, a lot of them seem rather laboured and Smith is guilty of this as much as anyone.
The basis of the film in terms of the central dynamic of what makes the buddy-buddy system work is played out fairly well mainly because Tommy Lee Jones plays his straight role again with aplomb – indeed he hardly needs to stretch himself with the material because he fits the thing like a glove. Kudos must be given to the people who selected Josh Brolin as the younger Agent K because he plays the role like a charm. On the one hand giving us the impression he could be the man that turns out to be the Lee Jones man whilst retaining a lack of world-weariness and little touches of lighter character that informs the change that will take place late on in the film. Brolin and Jones arguably anchor this film in a more firm manner than the bigger name-star.
The threat and jeopardy in the film is done some level of justice by Jemaine Clement’s performance as Boris, but even here, his role seems to serve more of an instrumental purpose for the central core of the film, which is unfortunate as villains go. Emma Thompson plays Agent O who takes over the Agency at the start of the movie and also has connections with Agent K that are explored in the 1969 world. Her part and even more the younger O played by Alice Eve are even more residual than the bad guy.
The only character that emerges with an impact on the film is Michael Stuhlbarg playing a pivotal character called Griff who holds the key to K completing his task. His performance gives off the soft, innocent but knowledgeable essence it should whilst providing comic relief with a flair that reminded me of witnessing Robin Williams’ breakthrough on TV as Mork in Mork and Mindy.
Third films in franchises are difficult – just consider ones like Godfather 3 and Beverly Hills Cop 3. MiB3 is not as bad an effort as those. It has its enjoyable moments which maintains momentum in interest from the start to the end of the film. Smith pulls in a creditable performance whilst Brolin and Jones put in very good ones. Yet when you spend your time watching a film and seeing what should be funny lines or funny set-ups that don’t quite hit the mark then you’re overall excitement about the film is somewhat dampened.