Nearly 10 years after the last film, “Men in Black 3” crawls into theaters, riding on the hopes of some leftover good will toward Will Smith and the “Men in Black” franchise.
However, “Men in Black 3” relies a little too heavily on nostalgia and the star power of its actors, introducing a weak plot, a weak villain and some cheap laughs.
Will Smith (“Seven Pounds”) and Tommy Lee Jones (“Captain America: The First Avenger”) return as Agent J and Agent K, the unlikely partners who work to protect the earth from alien threats. This time, the story involves an escapee from an alien prison on the moon and a hackneyed time travel plot.
When escaped convict Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement, “Dinner for Schmucks”) travels back in time to 1969 to kill Agent K, Agent J must follow after him to fix the timeline and save the Earth from invasion. While a bit unoriginal (it’s very similar to “Back to the Future 2”), the time travel does stop the film from being meandering and disjointed, giving the plot more urgency.
The time travel device gives Smith another reason for him to look constantly befuddled and frustrated, which honestly, is how we like him best. It is comforting to see Smith back on the big screen again, and he is as charming to watch as ever. Smith and Jones’ banter is as familiar and amusing as you remember, with their mounting irritation at each other balanced out by their synchronization. After all these years, Smith is still the sardonic voice of reason in the face of an increasingly ridiculous situation, and Jones plays the stoic straight man.
“Men in Black 3” introduces Josh Brolin (“True Grit”) as a young Agent K, who does the best Tommy Lee Jones impression yet. Brolin eases into the role seamlessly, imitating Jones’ mannerisms and facial tics to a tee, acting as the perfect bouncing board for Smith’s overacting and loud personality.
Emma Thompson (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”) also enters the film as Agent O, the new chief of the MIB organization, who also has a past with Agent K. Thompson makes do with the little screen time she has, going all-out in a nearly outlandish performance. Her younger self is played by Alice Eve (“The Raven”), who is as delightful and British as a character could be.
The villain is perhaps the most disappointing part of the movie. Boris the Animal is primitive, violent and, frankly, a little dull. He appears to have little intelligence, communicating in mostly grunts and loud yells. He seems to be the byproduct of an era far gone. Much like this franchise, he is antiquated, a villain that this post-9/11 age has no use or interest for.
The movie is fun, campy and stylized but lacks some of the novelty and panache that the first film had when it was released in 1997. The improved CGI provide for some impressively gross moments (the film seems to revel in disgusting the audience as much as possible with some of the aliens), but the movie still retains its wacky nature. Its attempts at tongue-in-cheek humor are lacking, and even the stars’ best efforts can’t salvage the film.
The “Men in Black” franchise just isn’t what it used to be. It simply doesn’t measure up to today’s newest blockbusters. Its dialogue can’t match the brilliant wit of “The Avengers,” and it doesn’t have the new age gravitas of “The Hunger Games.” While it’s nice to see some old, familiar faces on the big screen, “Men in Black 3” feels like it’s just going through the motions, missing what gave the original film so much heart.