‘Men in Black III’ makes amends for previous sequel
Slightly overlong and relatively unnecessary, “MiB III” seems to exist solely to denueralize our memory of the soulless first sequel that left audiences with a bitter aftertaste in what was a truly winning take on the “buddy cop” genre.
The 1997 original featured two leads - Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as Agents K and J, respectively - and a director (Barry Sonnenfeld) at the top of their specialized games. Jones was curt and craggily, Smith was wide-eyed and magnetic, and Sonnefeld zoomed his camera into the most unusual of places throughout, all resulting in a polished product that was one of the best blends of big-budget sci-fi and comedy since “Ghostbusters.”
Five years later, all three returned in an undisciplined sequel that felt structured solely to showcase its special effects (impressive as they were, they were hardly a foundation-building element).
Now, a full 16 years since the original, the makers of “Men in Black” would like to direct your attention to this little light at the end of this pen-sized instrument.
Are you focusing? Good.
All you need to remember is the charm of the original, as “MiB III” is here to erase all memories of the cash-grabbing sequel in which we were “treated” to a two-headed Johnny Knoxville, among other atrocities. This unnecessary-but-welcomed outing successfully coasts on the original’s vibe, provides a smidgen of poignancy to the leads’ bond, and offers another showcase for the unending talents of special effects maestro Rick Baker.
Another decade, another impending alien domination, this time, at the hands (or claws?) of Boris the Animal (played by “Flight of the Conchords’” Jemaine Clement, unrecognizable and comedically underused). Mr. The Animal has been stewing in a maximum security lunar prison since Agent K blew his arm off four decades ago. The new wrinkle with this sequel is the addition of time travel to the series, as J zips back to 1969 to help his partner take Boris’ life instead of just his arm.
The time-travel element is really incidental, as the 1969 setting is barely referenced, albeit a few jabs at race relations and an Andy Warhol bit. It’s more designed to showcase Josh Brolin’s dead-perfect Tommy Lee Jones impersonation as the young (ish) Agent K. The film shows a (very slightly) sunnier side of K, before a life-altering event further hardened his shell. There’s no stunning reveal, and you can see it coming a galaxy away, but it doesn’t make it any less affecting when it occurs.
It’s also an opportunity to usher in some great old-school special effects of the latex-and -spirit-gum variety, courtesy of Baker. Sure there are a number of CGI flourishes throughout, but it’s his tactile creatures that stand out and truly give the film it’s retro feel beyond what any pair of flared bell bottoms or Nehru jackets ever could.
Character actor Michael Stuhlbarg hops aboard as Griff, a time-skipping alien who is given the opportunity/curse of seeing all possible future outcomes to any situation. He’s a surprisingly sweet addition that all but cleanses the more cynical attitude inherent in “MiB II.” His “Butterfly Effect” -like asides are amusing mental meanderings for the more serious-minded sci-fi fans, but never sprain the brain, given that this is, first and foremost, a comedy.
And even though there was no real clamoring for this outing, it’s nice to see the crew back in fine working order, “Men in Black III” feels like an apology in the form of a film, which is a step up from the previous sequel, which was just plain sorry.