"Somehow history has been rewritten. There has to be a reason this is happening, and K seems to be in the centre of it..."
For all intents and purposes, Men in Black III should have been an utter catastrophe. Compounding the law of diminishing returns and the fact that it has been a decade since the poorly-received Men in Black II, production on the flick was troubled: cameras began rolling without a finished script, and filming started and stopped. Hell, Sony apparently considered just killing the movie on account of all the rewrites and filming breaks. It's therefore phenomenal how cohesive the finished movie is. If you were none the wiser, you would never assume that Men in Black III's journey from page to screen was so problematic, as its storytelling is astonishingly fluid. Surprisingly, too, MIB III is far better and more energetic than we had any right to expect. While it lacks the original film's spark of witty brilliance, this fun threequel does come close to matching the exuberance of the first Men in Black.
The last survivor of a planet-destroying race of aliens, Boris The Terrible (Clement) is incarcerated in a high security prison on the moon. When Boris escapes, he returns to Earth determined to exact revenge on Agent K (Jones) for shooting off one of his arms and arresting him years earlier. To prevent the removal of his limb, Boris travels back in time to 1969 to murder K, successfully erasing him from the present and causing a time ripple. In the present, only Agent J (Smith) can remember his now long-deceased partner, and he takes it upon himself to prevent K's death. With an alien attack threatening to destroy present-day Earth, J follows Boris back to 1969 where he meets young Agent K (Brolin). Forced to become reluctant partners, K and J set out to stop Boris' master plan.
The Men in Black series started out as a goofy take on alien invasion films, but, for some reason, Men in Black III is more of a straight action flick with not as much emphasis on laughs. The budget was ridiculously high (reports place the final price tag at $375 million, including marketing), essentially forcing director Barry Sonnenfeld and the writers to focus on large-scale action set-pieces to effectively compete for summer box office dollars. To be sure, though, there is still a smattering of humour, and it's of a better standard than anticipated. Whenever the script mines for comedy, there are laughs to be had (J's one-liners are often amusing, although they may have been improvised by Smith). But what's disappointing is how few and far between the best laughs are, not to mention there are no genuine belly-laughs here on the same level as 1997's Men in Black.
As to be expected from a big-budget 2012 blockbuster, Men in Black III is an attractive film. With such an enormous budget, Sonnenfeld and his team have created some truly eye-popping action set-pieces which were brought to life with borderline photorealistic digital effects and animatronics. Fortunately, the legendary Rick Baker returned here to design and create the new set of aliens. Baker's efforts are predictably brilliant, stuffing Sonnenfeld's frame with imaginative extraterrestrials and further blurring the line between what's animatronic and what's digital. Then there's composer Danny Elfman, a series veteran whose music gives the picture further energy and zest. (For the record, the franchise's trademark theme is present and accounted for.) The climax is a bit on the clunky side, though - most troublesome is a fight between Boris and Agent J which yields an especially confusing moment that looks to be the result of frantic re-editing. Plus, the final minute or so introduces a cheap gag designed to close the door with a smile, but the moment feels forced and redundant.
It has been four years since Will Smith last starred in a film, but the actor has not lost his charisma or magnetism. Back as Agent J for the first time in a decade, Smith is as charming as ever, scoring laughs through top-notch comic timing and spot-on line delivery. But the show-stealer here is Josh Brolin as young Agent K, presenting a note-perfect imitation of Tommy Lee Jones. He nails Jones' mannerisms, steely facial expressions and deadpan line deliveries, not to mention Brolin actually resembles the actor. It's more than mere mimicry too, as Brolin embodies young K to effectively present an early version of the iconic character. It's impressive stuff. Best of all, Brolin has honest-to-goodness chemistry with Will Smith, and his inclusion makes the pairing of Agent K and Agent J feel fresh again. In fact, some of Men in Black III's finest moments involve the two men casually bantering rather than battling aliens. Meanwhile, Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) is a solid villain who makes a menacing impression whenever he's on-screen. Also in the cast is the underrated Michael Stuhlbarg who plays a fifth-dimensional being with the ability to see all versions of the future. His quick-paced talking is outstanding, and Stuhlbarg always remains eminently watchable. However, Tommy Lee Jones is unfortunately relegated to an extended cameo appearance, showing up for 20 minutes tops over the entire movie. Jones is great in his limited scenes, so it's a shame that there isn't more of them.
This reviewer is one of the three people on the planet who enjoys Men in Black II, but MIB III is definitely a marked improvement over its immediate predecessor. Still, it's not as good as the original MIB. The partnership of Smith and Brolin gives the series back its spark, yet the endeavour does seem a bit routine. Oh, and there's no Frank the Pug, which is worsened by the fact that Sonnenfeld apparently wanted to rub this in - Agent J has a large poster of Frank on his wall, and in the background at one stage there's a poster advertising "The Amazing Speaking Pug". Seriously, what gives? This aside, Men in Black III is a fun time. It even closes with a poignant twist that strengthens K and J's relationship and will make you watch the entire series in a new light. Room is left wide open for a fourth instalment, too, which this reviewer is actually looking forward to.