Last time we saw Agent J and K, it was ten years ago and had something to do with a sexy, tentacled bad guy and a clueless Rosario Dawson walking around aimlessly for a couple of hours. No one was asking for another Men in Black, but director Barry Sonnenfeld is back again with Men in Black III, which has Will Smith traveling back in time in search of a funny concept. He doesn't find one.
Tommy Lee Jones reprises his role as Agent K, who must face a blast from the past when an especially dangerous criminal escapes from a maximum security prison. Before he can tell his partner the whole truth, his old nemesis travels back in time and kills him, effectively erasing him from existence. Agent J (Smith) heads to 1969 and partners with a younger version of K - played by Josh Brolin - to save his life, and the world.
As soon as the time travel concept was announced, I knew the movie was in trouble. Franchises that introduce time travel when time travel wasn't their initial focus scream of desperation. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time comes to mind. And now, Men in Black III.
In fairness, Men in Black III isn't a horrible movie. It has its entertaining moments, and its fast pacing keeps boredom at a minimum. Will Smith, even when he's on autopilot, is fun to watch, and Josh Brolin nails his Tommy Lee Jones impersonation. The character Griffin, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, is also well done.
Men in Black III isn't funny, however.
Last I checked, that's a problem for action-comedies.
The whole premise revolves around Agent J returning to 1969, a classic fish-out-of-water story. As stupid as the premise is, screenwriter Etan Cohen completely fails to have fun with the potential. Aside from a scene where J is pulled over by a couple of white cops just because he's black and driving a nice car, the movie makes very few comical references to the era (admittedly, a scene with Andy Warhol is amusing, too). There are so many opportunities for jokes, it's pretty stunning that the movie takes advantage of so few of them.
Otherwise, the story is a retread of the movies that have come before it. There's a big bad alien, who is uninspiring to say the least, and the threat of an alien invasion. I've seen it before, and I don't need to see it again. The movie also under-develops the relationship between Agent K and Agent O (played by Alice Eve in the sixties and Emma Thompson in modern day). Why even bother?
After watching Men in Black III, I returned home and watched the original movie the same night. The contrast is amazing for multiple reasons: both J and K are so much more fluid in the original, especially K; the production is zanier and more energetic; the villain is creepier and much more threatening; the special effects are significantly better, even though they were made 15 years ago.
The original Men in Black was also Barry Sonnenfeld's last good movie.
This latest sequel is unnecessary in so many ways, but even as is the filmmakers fail to take advantage of its potential. The movie does have its moments, however, and, while utterly forgettable, could have been much worse. Still, with a reported budget of $225 to an astounding $375 million, it's hard to see where the dollars went. Men in Black III isn't horrible, but Agents J and K should have retired long ago.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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