The original Men in Black movie came out of nowhere all the way back in 1997 and proved a big hit worldwide. Will Smith was at the peak of his box office powers and shared string chemistry with Tommy Lee Jones, the pair bouncing Ed Solomon’s crackling dialogue off each other with consummate ease. The 2002 sequel hit big at the box office but good luck finding someone who remembers anything about the film other than Johnny Knoxville with multiple heads, let alone finding someone who liked it.
In a threequel no-one was screaming out for, Smith and Jones return as Agents J and K of top secret government agency the Men in Black, who track all alien activity on Earth. The threat to the Earth in this instalment comes courtesy of of Flight of the Concords star Jermaine Clement as Boris The Animal (“It’s just Boris!”), a menacing alien who escapes space jail with a massive grudge against Agent K for putting him there back in 1969.
Boris travels back in time to kill K before he has the chance to arrest him and stop his invasion of Earth. This kickstarts a time travel plot full of inconsistencies as J goes back in time to stop Boris before he stops K and so on, analysing a time travel plot is always a fruitless endeavour and that’s no different here. Back in the 60’s, J tracks down a young K (Josh Brolin) and, along with Michael Stuhlbarg’s future-telling alien Griffin, they set out to kill Boris.
Erasing the vaguely unpleasant memories of the previous instalment, this is a fun outing for the Men in Black with Smith and Jones still an immensely watchable on-screen pairing. Brolin makes for a fun substitute for Jones in the time travel scenes with a voice so spot on you’d swear it was dubbed with Jones’ own, though we’re assured it isn’t. Delving into K’s past also gives more depth to the character and why he is the way he is and a late twist gives a whole new dimension to the K/J relationship.
While it’s all watchable and reasonably enjoyable, it still can’t shake the feeling of being slightly dated, as if it’s been lifted right out of the 90’s and planted into a summer full of sequels and reboots to make a quick buck. Jones’ limited involvement suggests fulfilling a contractual obligation rather than any real passion to get behind the black Ray Bans once again and Smith’s performance, while fun, feels all too routine and familiar.
The fresh faces to the cast help blow the dust off proceedings slightly with Jermaine Clement going all out ferocious in the villain role, Emma Thompson as Agent O, replacing the deceased Agent Z (Rip Torn, presumably not tied to a third film) and Alice Eve as the 60’s version of O.
Men in Black 3 is a worthy addition to the franchise that leans closer to the first film in terms of quality. There are some solid gags and Rick Baker’s monster design is as fantastic as always, particularly with Boris who can seemingly spout mouth-like orifices from anywhere on his body and keeps a bony spider inside his hand somewhere. It runs too long and ultimately feels a little flat but as hollow summer entertainment goes, it’s an enjoyable ride that can bridge the gap between the more anticipated releases of the season. Let’s just hope the producers quit while they’re ahead and don’t see this as a launching pad for more MIB films.