I must admit I had pretty low expectations for “Men in Black III.” I’ve never been a fan of the franchise as the whole alien theme seemed silly to me, and it’s been a decade since the last film, so exactly who was asking for this sequel anyway? Well, the obvious answer would be the greedy folks over at Sony who intend to squeeze every last dollar out of the popular series, especially before Will Smith stops being cool and Tommy Lee Jones needs a walker to get around.
But surprisingly, the third installment is actually a pretty fun film. The 66-year old Jones plays Agent K surlier and grumpier than ever, but his role is limited since the focus is on Smith’s Agent J and the young version of Agent K, played to mimicking perfection by Josh Brolin. When an evil alien named Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes from his lunar prison (with help from Hawaii’s Nicole Scherzinger), he travels back in time to kill K who shot his arm off and imprisoned him back in 1969. Agent J follows Boris back to the past to prevent the murder of his future partner and works together with the younger K to stop Boris’ plans for an alien invasion of Earth.
The plot is fairly simple, even with the complications introduced by the time travel concept, and predictably so as production and filming commenced without a completed script. But the performances and chemistry of Smith and especially Brolin make the film work. K has always been the senior agent to J, but in 1969, J’s 14 years of experience in the present makes him a senior to the younger K, resulting in an interesting reversal of roles. Now it’s J who’s the no-nonsense agent whose mind is purely on the mission at hand, while K gets the opportunity to show a little bit of his personality before becoming the grumpy old K. The screenwriters also nicely bring the relationship between J and K full circle with a surprisingly touching ending. But don’t think that means Smith plays the dull straight man this time around. He’s still the king of cool and delivers his lines and reactions with his typical charismatic ease.
There are also good performances turned in by Emma Thompson as Agent O, the new head of the Men in Black division and K’s former lover, as well as Michael Stuhlbarg, who brings an innocent charm to his role as an alien who can see multiple future timelines. And while Clement’s Boris the Animal may not be as fun of a villain as Vincent D’Onofrio was in the original film, he is compellingly evil and menacing.
The comedy and action are not memorable, but rather functional, effective and nicely balanced. “Men in Black III” may not break any new ground, but it’s fun summer film that will please fans of the franchise and possibly make new ones out of those watching the finely dressed alien fighters for the first time.
“Men in Black III,” 98 minutes, is rated PG-13 and opens in theaters today.