‘MIB 3’ Is Better Than No. 2, But Not Great

Leonard Wechsler


Watching Men in Black 3 reminded me of the old rule about sequels: If the second is a real dog, the third will be an improvement. Yes, this is better than the very tired second installment. On the other hand, it is not a spectacular improvement. The movie is OK; there are some nice moments in it, but far too much gimmickry and obviously computer-generated effects. A few of the aliens are interesting; the best looks human except for one computer-generated effect.

The film decided to forgo the traditional “III” in its title and went to a regular 3 in order to remind people that they could see it in 3-D. Why they would pay the extra money to see the film, however, is beyond me. It is mostly a vehicle for Will Smith to return to starring roles after avoiding movies for three years following a string of flops. To get back on his feet, he will follow this movie with a whole group of other sequels. Whoopee!!!

In the movie, Agent J (Smith) goes through his usual routine with Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones, pushing his shtick more than ever) until the bad guy, Boris the Animal (Jermaine Clement), breaks out of LunarMax, goes back in time and kills K. This leads to a very pallid invasion of Earth by his race, which had gone extinct except for him in the old timeline. J goes back in time, meets the young K (Josh Brolin) and between the two of them, they stop Boris. There is even an overly sweet bit of a postscript.

Smith pretty much sleepwalks through the film. He plays himself, gets a chance to do his usual gimmickry, but not much more. Jones, who mostly appears in the first 40 minutes, with a very brief bit at the end, does Tommy Lee Jones very well, all grumpy and terse. Josh Brolin, as the young K, nearly steals the movie as a result. His impersonation works brilliantly. After a minute, he is K, a younger, more personable version, but still unmistakably K.

Some of the smaller parts really stand out. Bill Hader is brilliant as Agent W, who is Andy Warhol. His big scene is superb. It also brings one of the film’s best lines… from Agent J, who remarks that “all models are aliens. I found out the hard way.”

Even better in a small part is Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin, a being who can see and experience all possible futures. Frankly, he is far more interesting than J or K or, for that matter, just about everyone else in the picture, providing, ironically, the real humanity that the humans manage to avoid. Emma Thompson is wasted as O, the new head of the Men in Black group and, it turns out, a former possible lover of K.

There are special effects galore in the picture; the problem is that there are so many that none of them wildly stands out. There is a general feel of “been there, done that” throughout. The aliens are generally not much different from ones we have seen before; J and K are a bit tougher on them, but aside from one gigantic fish, which appears quickly in one scene and is gone the next, the threats are limited.

According to Hollywood sources, the budget for this movie ran into the hundreds of millions, but most of it appears never to have made it to the screen. The MIB offices now look super-fancy but worked better when they were ordinary.

The first of the series seemed a revelation to those of us who had never read the comics it was based on: aliens in disguise living among us, all sorts of interesting differences. Now the aliens are expected and, while they look different (there is an interesting sort of fish with a strange, actually live human face that looked like it might be served up as food… strange and disturbing, but aside from seeing it on a counter in a Chinese restaurant, nothing else was done with it), they were not that different. The bad guy was really not all that alien; the chase scenes were OK but not brilliant.

On the other hand, it was a pleasant diversion. I have seen far worse movies this year. I sat back, munched on my popcorn and had a pleasant time. For two people, that is an expensive way to spend a couple of hours, but … well, I like Smith, and I really liked both Brolin and Stuhlbarg. That might do it for you, but I’d wait for On Demand or the DVD.