The first Men in Black movie had a fun, goofy, quirky kind of charm and silliness about it that made it a lot of fun. It also seemed like a natural idea for a successful franchise as there should be a myriad of stories to tell in a universe where a secret police force protects the Earth from alien threats. Unfortunately, Men in Black II proved that finding more fun stories in said universe was perhaps harder to do than we thought. Ten years later, Men in Black III does what the second film couldn’t, show that yes, there are some more fun stories to have with the whole premise; one just needs a little time traveling and some Josh Brolin.
If there’s one thing that Star Trek proved for sci-fi, it’s when you’re stuck in a rut, do some time traveling. That helped kick-start things for the original crew with Star Trek IV, and it got the next-gen crew off to a good start in their best solo film with Star Trek: First Contact. It’s a good rule of thumb, and one that works well again here. If anything, one of the areas where MIB3 falters is by not making the most of it. There were a lot of missed opportunities to have some fun with the setting of a future J being in 1969, but the mere fact that he had to travel back in time at least helps keep the movie from feeling like more of the same old, same old, which is what doomed the second film. I’m also rather surprised that there wasn’t some sort of Mad Men reference or cameo made in the movie; seemed ripe for the plucking.
The other area where this sequel sets itself apart from the previous is that it’s willing to get more personal. Despite the two previous movies, we really didn’t know much about the main characters, and this time out we get some genuinely touching moments with them that expand their dynamic beyond being yet another odd-couple set of partners. This gives the movie some much needed heart, although the whole arc concerning K doesn’t really get a satisfying conclusion. I kept waiting for the emotional pay-off that would either move his character forward or provide that one key moment of understanding to what makes him truly tick, but it never really shows. J gets much more of an emotionally satisfying story this time around.
Then there’s Josh Brolin playing the young version of Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K. I’m telling you, although Jones really plays an extended cameo in this film, it feels like he’s starring in it throughout, thanks to the amazingly dead-on homage/impression by Brolin. You may even think at times that Jones’ voice was dubbed in for Brolin’s, but in fact it wasn’t. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, than Tommy ought to be very, very flattered indeed. If his brain had been surgically inserted into Brolin’s body you still probably couldn’t get a better performance than this. A great deal of the fun in this movie comes solely on Brolin’s performance and his chemistry with Will Smith, which is both familiar and different from Smith and Jones’. On the disappointing side, Jermaine Clement, the Flight of the Concords alum, does not get enough room or enough to work with to truly shine. Considering his talent and the possibilities that were there for his role, this feels like an unfortunate waste.
One other fun addition is Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin, an alien from the 5th dimension who can see all the alternate futures that may or may not take place. His running narration of what may or may not happen depending on this or that circumstance taking place at various, specific moments is trippy and a lot of fun to listen to. Plus, it also proves rather useful in helping J and young K help save the world. It’d be handy to have someone like that around, wouldn’t it? Someone to tell you the potential outcomes of every decision we make at every second. Well, in a sense, we can have that kind of help. The Bible says that God “makes known the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10) and that he is “the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 21:6). He sees every possibility, exists outside of time and space, and yet wants to be personally involved in our lives. Wouldn’t it make sense to put our lives in the hands of One who knew the future before the past even started? Who knows all the outcomes and every eventuality? Who loves us dearly and has done everything possible, even death on a cross and resurrection from the dead, to help secure for us the best possible future? He may not give us a running narrative like Griffin, but if we’ll trust him, he will prove to be just as helpful.
It’s never easy for a third film to make up for a disappointing second film. Men in Black III pulls it off with some fresh ideas and some classic fun and charm. There are plenty of missed opportunities for greatness in the movie, and there’s the typical alien gooeyness and one rather surprising use of tongue right at the beginning that makes it a tough recommend for younger kids, but nonetheless, it’s still pretty darn good. If you’re looking for something fun to do over Memorial Day weekend and you’ve already seen The Avengers, Men in Black III is the perfect type of fun summer flick to go and enjoy.