MEN IN BLACK III
DIRECTED BY Barry Sonnenfeld
STARS Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones
It's been 15 years since the release of the delightful Men in Black and a decade since the escape of its lamentable first sequel, and in the interim, audiences have been clamoring for another follow-up only slightly more than they've been jonesing for another Home Alone entry — that is to say, not much at all. It's not that the original MiB doesn't have its legion of fans — hell, I'm one of them — but when a studio waits this long to make another film in a popular franchise, it doesn't boast of creative revitalization as much as it smacks of cast and crew members looking for an easy paycheck via a product with name recognition.
Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in Men in Black III (Columbia)
The surprise regarding Men in Black III, then, is that great chunks of it display true wit and imagination. Ultimately, it still proves to be a bit long in the tooth, but a few bits manage to do the series proud. Once again, we find Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) still doing their part by patrolling extra-terrestrial activity on Earth and making sure no malevolent aliens are threatening the planet. But K's old nemesis, Boris the Animal (played by The Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement), has just escaped from a lunar maximum-security jail, where he's been imprisoned since K first captured him approximately 40 years ago. Now running free back on Earth, Boris utilizes a time-travel device to take him back to 1969, where he plans to kill K before the agent can apprehend him. Learning of this plot, J has no choice but to follow Boris back in time, where he ends up meeting the younger K (Josh Brolin).
As far as time-travel tales are concerned, this doesn't compare to watching various Terminators go back in time to kill Sarah Connor or her son, nor does it compete with Marty McFly's exploits. Indeed, the time-travel material often seems anemic and underdeveloped, with the film rarely taking advantage of its placement of the thoroughly modern J in the 1960s. One exception: The agents visit Andy Warhol (Bill Hader) at The Factory (Warhol actually had vacated the original Factory in 1968, a year before the movie's setting, but never mind), and the artist's true identity, as well as his purpose, are not what viewers will be expecting. This great scene also introduces a unique new character in Griffin (sweetly played by A Serious Man's Michael Stuhlbarg), a strange being with the ability to simultaneously see different futures play out.
Ably adopting Jones' mumbly demeanor, Brolin does a bang-up job portraying the younger Agent K. But since he's MIA for this entire midsection of the movie, Jones doesn't have time to reestablish his rapport with Smith, and their chemistry is off to a startling degree — so much, in fact, that it's almost as if they had applied the movie's iconic Neuralyzers on themselves and forgotten their previous co-starring ventures.