MOVIE REVIEW: Men in Black 3
MEN IN BLACK 3-- 3 STARS
There are three main reasons why sequels to movies get made. One reason is purely financial. Big box office success triggers greedy studio bosses and vane actors and actresses to desire more of that cash flow into their coffers. Another reason is appeal. Call this the "encore effect." The characters of the original are popular and beloved and people want to see more of them. The third is creatively rooted. To put it simply, there is more story to tell and one movie was not enough. All sequels say the right things about being all for the second and third reason, but we're smart enough to see the dollar signs of the first one brimming to the surface.
For Men in Black 3, coming 15 years after the original and 10 years after its first sequel, you can definitely spot two of the three reasons. Make no mistake. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones have always been a likable pair together. Seeing their mutual chop-busting is worth two hours of your time. Then, the financials come into play. Sony Pictures needed a sure-thing in case their upcoming Amazing Spider-Man reboot flops on the upcoming July 4th weekend. Smith (in his first acting gig in four years) and Jones (who funds his own filmmaking projects) weren't going to say no to easy paychecks either. Well, that's two of the three. To no surprise, the sequel reason left out was the creative one. As you will read later, story is secondary in Men in Black 3 and you can easily ask if a third movie was really necessary.
A decade after we last saw them, Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) are still special agent partners that, while having each other's back at every moment, continue to occupy a sometimes-testy mentor-student relationship. Trouble arises when one of K's old enemies, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame), breaks out of the elaborate super-maximum prison built for him on the Moon. His ridiculous scheme of revenge involves going back in time over 40 years ago to kill K before he apprehended him and took his arm.
When Boris succeeds, the future is changed but only Agent J seems to know it and the Earth is detrimentally threatened. With the help of the new MIB director, "O" (an underused Emma Thompson), he becomes determined to follow Boris back in time to prevent Agent K's death. A daring time jump (don't ask why or how) off of the Chrysler Building sends J back to July 15, 1969, on the eve of the historic Apollo 11 launch. After a few modern fish-out-of-water and black-man-in-the-late-60s gags, J runs into the younger Agent K (Josh Brolin) and enlists him to prevent Boris's impending actions.
From a performance standpoint, little new ground is broken. Will Smith plays his usual wise-cracking and charismatic self and Tommy Lee Jones keeps his usual surliness dialed in. We get what we paid for with the Will-and-Tommy repartee, but it's fleeing with much of the story taking place in 1969. That's where Josh Brolin's uncanny channeling of TLJ take over nicely. He counts as that new ground, but fellow newcomer to the franchise, Emma Thompson, is underused, as is her past self played by Alice Eve. You can tell that those aforementioned racial and future gags replaced character development, but, hey, if you want character development and dynamic dialogue, you're smart enough not to look here. You came here to be entertained.
In a summer blockbuster, entertainment value is commonly given more emphasis than cohesive story flow and Men in Black 3 lives up to that formula. The time travel and interlacing historical ramifications make for plot holes the size of galaxies (after seeing the movie, read this article and laugh, thanks Day at the Movies), but much of that is forgivable given the Men in Black franchise's intentional quirky and campy nature coming from director Barry Sonnenfeld. The third film, while unnecessary in the grand scheme of things, still succeeds in being effective summer entertainment. It's no Avengers, but it's a pleasant show and does its job. I can't give details, but one of those nebula-sized plot holes turns out absolutely perfect as a sentimental ending twist that ripples through time and relationships. If we never see a Men in Black 4, this was a nice way for our dynamic alien-fighting duo to go out.
LESSON #1: DON'T ASK QUESTIONS THAT YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE ANSWER TO-- This lesson is an often-used line from our lead characters, but it's a good rule of thumb for life to not elevate stress. At the same time that you ask these kinds of questions, they are also the types that you likely already know the answers to. So, roll with the punches and either accept the answers or leave some things to mystery.
LESSON #2: SURLY PEOPLE HAVE THEIR REASONS FOR BEING THAT WAY-- Just as with any personality trait that one wears on their sleeve, people have developed that personality for a reason. With a red-ass like K, his surliness has roots and causes. What exactly? Keep reading.
LESSON #3: THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE FORCE IN THE UNIVERSE IS REGRET-- This lesson comes from a seemingly dire (and possibly self-pitying) quote from Tommy Lee Jones, especially considering the setting of a Men in Black movie. Agent K is still on the right track about the destructive power of regret. Depending on the scale, regret can definitely ruin days, years, and entire lifetimes. Don't believe me? Picture your own regrets and see how you feel.