For a film plagued with so many production issues – shooting without a finished script, the months long hiatus in-between filming and the rewrites – MEN IN BLACK 3 didn’t turn out half bad. Considering how awful and over-the-top the second one was and then all these issues, I wasn't expecting much from MIB3. But deep down inside I was hoping it'd be less like the second one and more like the first film. That first MEN IN BLACK was filled with excitement, adventure, interesting creatures and characters. It was fun learning about and trying to digest the world of the Men In Black with Will Smith and his attitude and wise cracks. It was cool to see the way aliens integrated into our society and interesting to watch Tommy Lee Jones’ old school, calm and surly demeanor clash with Smith’s new school attitude. And it looks like Sony’s learned their lesson with MIB3 and gone back to what made the first so enjoyable. Instead of concentrating so much on the jokes and sci-fi, it focuses on the human element behind the franchise, the relationship between Agents J and K.
This time around an alien K (Jones) arrested, named Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), has escaped his lunar prison and travels back in time to 1969. Boris plans to kill K on the day he was arrested so that his people can take over Earth in the present. J (Smith) goes back in time in hopes of stopping Boris, saving the younger version of his partner (Josh Brolin) and the planet.
I think it was a smart choice to focus on the emotional connection between J and K because they're so integral to the franchise. You don't have a MIB film without those two. Sure J’s had partners besides K but it’s that playful back and forth of their opposing personalities, mixing both teasing and respect, that makes their relationship special and fun to watch. It is J's job to protect the planet from alien aggressors but in MIB3 he has a personal investment in the matter so he isn't all about being a smartass and making jokes as he carries on his mission. Now we get to look behind that wall of snark and see how much K means to him. He’s very concerned about saving his partner and Smith brings out the serious, emotional side of J while still being charismatic.
With J travelling back in time we get to delve into K’s backstory a bit, giving us a look at him before he was a grizzled veteran agent and Brolin does a fantastic job at bringing a new life to K. His K is youthful, funny, charming and still has a positive look on life, mirroring J’s general attitude, and more importantly his impersonation of Jones is spot-on. It was those few seconds at the end of the first trailer where we got our first peek at Brolin’s K when he says, “how do you my name?” that drew me to the movie. I had to see how good his impersonation was and he nails Jones’ drawl and vocal inflections while creating his own image of the character. Brolin’s take on K makes the character so likeable and it’s just as fun to see these two interact, as it is to see Smith and Jones. Part of me hopes that if this franchise continues that they find a way to incorporate Brolin into it because of his great performance.
Unfortunately with the personal nature of the film there aren’t many aliens featured in the film. Those that are featured are mostly CGI but the few that were costumes weren’t as impressive or as ornate as it was in the last two, particularly the last one. Boris was hella creepy and borderline disgusting with his strange millipede type body and the tiny servant alien bug that came out of his palm but beyond Boris there were hardly any other aliens showcased that were worth admiring.
However, as J and K track down Boris in ’69 they do meet a really interesting alien named Griffin, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, who looks a lot younger and much happier than he did in A SERIOUS MAN. Although there isn’t much to his costuming, it’s Griffin’s character that makes him so intriguing. Griffin is an otherworldly being with the ability to see every possible outcome of an instance in time and proves to be very valuable to K and Boris. Just imagine the possibility of knowing everything that could ever happen ever. I might go insane will all that knowledge but Stuhlbarg plays Griffin with a perpetual sense of happiness and enthusiasm that it gives the story a sense of hope and he helps create some of the more poignant moments in the film.
While no one really asked for it, MEN IN BLACK 3 was a surprisingly entertaining sequel. It is a definite improvement from the last one with its heartfelt story and the great addition of Brolin to the cast. Plus it was a nice reminder of how much fun the first one was and what drew you into the franchise in the first place.