Men in Black 3 (2012)
Film review #535
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
SYNOPSIS: Agents J and K are investigating an alien incident when they discover one of K’s old enemies, Boris, has escaped from his prison on the moon. J wakes up one morning to find out that K is gone, apparently having forty years ago. It seems Boris has travelled back in time and killed K, so J must also travel back in time to 1969 to prevent K’s death and stop Boris…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Men in Black 3 is a 2012 sci-fi film and the third in the Men in Black franchise, loosely based on the comics of the same name. The film opens up with a ruthless criminal, Boris (if that is his real name) escaping from his prison on the moon. He heads to earth to take his revenge on the agent who put him there: Agent K. To do so, he travels back in time to kill Agent K, so that his existence for the last 40 years is wiped out. Agent J must himself travel back to 1969 to stop Boris from accomplishing his plan, and save his partner. Bringing in time travel as the core mechanic, the plot has the potential to get very confusing very fast; but the film keeps it mostly simple, so everything stays together well: that’s not to say that there’s no questions surrounding some of the effects of time travel, because there is, but they don’t distract too much from the plot. The enemy this time is Boris, an alien who was imprisoned on the moon because he is such a menace. His whole plot again isn’t too important, and mostly serves as a catalyst to the main element of the film and the previous ones, which is the relationship between agents J and K. On this point, the film again gives us a solid and in-depth exploration of their characters and interactions, and while some of it is re-treading ground from the first two films, there is enough that is new and refreshing to make it worthwhile to sit through. The plot goes at a decent enough pace, and holds back enough mystery and suspense to make a decent payoff at the end, and enough energy along the way to sustain your attention until you get there. The film does gloss over many of the events of the first two films, and there’s some incongruities there, but on the other hand, it also makes this film easily a standalone feature, while still being an extension of what went before. Given the ten-year gap between this film and the previous one, it makes sense that the film can stand on it’s own, as some of it’s viewers will not have watched the first two, or simply forgot the particulars.
While the first film had a rather conventional relationship between J being the rookie, and K being the veteran agent; the second reversed this relationship by having J re-recruit K, which turned J into the veteran, but this reversal didn’t really work for a number of reasons (which I laid out in my review of the film). Men in Black 3 uses the time travel element to again reconfigure their relationship. J and K are essentially equals, but K still refuses to open up about his life. When J travels back in time to 1969, his relationship with young K is a bit more dynamic: J is the veteran, but he’s also a “fish out of water” in 1969, and K is the junior agent, but knows how everything works in that time, so neither of them are the rookie, but neither are they both the vets, so they’re on equal, but even footing, which gives their characters something new and interesting to explore throughout the film. Josh Brolin as young K does a really great job here: he captures Tommy Lee Jones’ K very well, while also putting enough of a spin on it to make it his own. Will Smith is still able to do what he does best getting into slapstick and humourous antics, but his maturity also lets him have some emotional moments too. The supporting characters and villain fill their roles well enough, but they’re nothing too special, but again, the series has always hinged on J and K’s relationship first, and alien invasions and agency bureaucracy second.
The film does a good job brining the 60′s Men in Black to life, with plenty of fun weapon and vehicle designs, and some creative aliens too. While the pop culture references in Men in Black II aged the film and didn’t really work, the time travel element gives the film more free reign to bring 60′s culture to life without aging the film itself. The ending of the film, which isn’t too hard to work out what’s going to happen when it gets underway, is nevertheless emotional and gripping, and feels like a good pay-off. I felt like maybe the film ends a bit too abruptly after though, as it generates all of these emotions, and never works through them to any degree, and so just leaves them hanging in the mind of the viewer with no outlet for them, but I think that others could easily be more satisfied with the ending, and so that point is probably more a matter of opinion than a critique of the film. Overall, Men in Black 3 is definitely an improvement over it’s predecessor, although Men in Black II lowered the bar a fair amount. It’s not a perfect film and still struggles with story outside of it’s core characters, but the film offers a fresh angle on exploring the relationship between the two main characters, while also still being fun and entertaining. Predictable in some parts, but still offers up enough fun and heart to be worth a watch for fans of the franchise, and tight enough to watch as a standalone film if you’ve never seen any of the others.