Men In Black 3 (**)

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If you are going to invest the time and money to see Men In Black 3, the investment comes for one reason and one reason only…Josh Brolin. As a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones, Brolin is fantastic and not only nails Tommy Lee Jones’ temperament, voice, mannerisms, and caricatures, but he almost makes you hope for a Men In Black 4, just to see Brolin continue his take on the younger version of Jones’ grumpy and grumbling Agent K. Will Smith comes alive in his scenes with Brolin and for awhile Men In Black 3 is engaging and amusing. Without Josh Brolin, Men In Black 3 unfortunately resembles the ill-advised and wheezing Men In Black 2, where it appeared Smith and Jones were stumbling around scene after scene looking for an ATM to deposit their robust sequel paychecks.

Essentially, Men In Black 3 is a bit of a curiosity in that it even exists. Will Smith does not really need to make it, even though he has not opened a blockbuster in the last several years. Smith’s track record of opening a dozen $100 million grossing films from 1996-2008 is still impressive, but the first Men In Black, as eluded to more than once in the film, was released 14+ years ago. Those who decry Hollywood’s inability to champion new projects and simply defer to reboots and relaunches will have yet another film to be upset about. An unnecessary endeavor, no matter how much money Columbia Pictures makes with it, Men In Black 3 is largely forgettable and entertaining only in fits and starts.

Men In Black 3 introduces us right out of the gate to a nasty alien named Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement) who springs free from the Lunar Max prison facility on the Moon after being imprisoned there for more than 40 years. Boris has but one goal – return to Earth and destroy Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones/Josh Brolin), who in arresting Boris, shot off his left arm. Boris is a loathsome, grotesque creature, who utilizes a parasitic helper who conveniently resides in his right hand and shoots deadly barbs into his victims. Boris also wants to claim the Earth on behalf of his alien race, rendered extinct largely by his capture. After causing havoc in present-day New York City, Boris has acquired a time-jump device, which allows him to go back to 1969 and rewrite history by killing Agent K and restoring his alien race to superiority.

In present-day, Agent K immediately recognizes that Boris has sprung free and becomes very morose and tight-lipped around his partner, Agent J (Will Smith). Despite working together for 15 years, J claims he does not know K at all and has reached the end of his rope trying to understand his partner’s emotional state. Funny, they liked each other well enough in the first two films, but I digress

After a baffling phone call with K, Agent J goes into headquarters to determine what Agent K is hiding from him. A new unquenchable thirst for chocolate milk, as well as strangers living in Agent K’s apartment, make J begin to question everything around him. When he arrives at headquarters, Agent AA (Will Arnett) is identified as his partner and Agent O (Emma Thompson, and Alice Eve in the 1969 scenes) informs Agent J that Agent K died 40 years ago at the hands of Boris the Animal. J is able to piece together enough information to find a second time-jump device and after a dangerous leap of the Chrysler Building, J resolves to go back in time to the day before Boris and K’s altercation, kill Boris, save Agent K’s life, and undo Boris’ rewriting of history. All in a day’s work, you know?

At best Men In Black 3 is amusing and at worst, the film is mediocre. I cannot say I found anything all that objectionable with the film, but I also find little to herald outside of Josh Brolin’s tremendous work. Jemaine Clement, continuing to voice and portray villains in a wide-range of animated and live-action films, is appropriately vile but just not all that interesting as a villain. The screenplay by Etan Cohen is remarkably flat and listless and Clement is nothing more than a impressive looking vessel for which chaos and havoc can be funneled through.

Josh Brolin, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Will Smith in "Men In Black 3" (Columbia Pictures)

Essentially, Men In Black 3 suffers from an underwhelming story and premise and Cohen just cannot seem to find a strident tone with any of this. For starters, the time machine/back in time period piece idea is a threadbare one, which feels trite as if grasped at because of some mandate. The opening scenes involving Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones lack any humor or chemistry; the punchlines grazing nary a blow, and the expectations begin to suffer almost immediately. So, yeah thank goodness for Josh Brolin.

With Josh Brolin essentially absorbing Tommy Lee Jones, Men In Black 3 becomes interesting at least and the potential for something impressive feels like it is coming. In hindsight, with full disclosure, I found myself more impressed with Brolin’s performance in terms of watching a terrific actor ply his trade as opposed to being all that interested in what he was saying or doing. The other supporting cast members are all given little to do and other than a precognitive alien named Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), who becomes a de facto third wheel for Agent J and 1969 Agent K, this is largely a movie where J and K try to stop Boris in 1969.

Impressively staged with flawless visual effects and technical skill, Men In Black 3 lacks a true purpose or soul. Still, I have to acknowledge that the film amused me from bell to bell and was never a bad experience. Rather, the film just exists as a cash cow for a studio who likely have no desire to continue on with the series. After initially appearing in 1997, a fact that is curiously eluded to more than once in the film, the Men In Black franchise has more than run its course. Josh Brolin will never get any awards consideration for this work, but he absolutely should. He is the only real reason to spend your hard-earned money on the disappointing and vacant summer blockbuster, Men In Black 3.

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My love of film began at the age of 7 when my parents not only gave me a television, but HBO to boot. My first theatrical experience was "E.T." My first movie cry came with "Old Yeller". "The Usual Suspects" made me decide to make movies and film writing a priority in life, even knowing the twist beforehand. My passion for film, music, and pop culture in general can be isolated to my youth. My love for film took root in high school. Above all else, movies and art, in any form, exist to entertain and I remain much more interested in how art affects others, more than with myself. But I love the conversation and to have a chance to share my thoughts and be a part of the community here is a unique and enriching experience.