Men in Black 3 Review: Surprisingly Solid Threequel

Men in Black 3 defies the odds as a fun, flawed romp with an unexpectedly sweet, affecting climax. But they need to call it a day here.

(Our second review of Men in Black 3 after Adam Rayner's earlier in the week)

rating: 3

How many good €œthreequels€ in a film series can people name? How about when the second film was already a turkey? What about when production reports suggested that the third film was partly shot without a completed script? The deck seems stacked against the cast and crew of Men in Black 3, yet with plenty to prove, Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld mostly deliver the goods in this undeniably sketchy yet enjoyable seat-of-your-pants follow-up. Going the time travel route for part three, MIB3 begins as Agent J (Smith) wakes up one day to find that his long-time partner, K (Jones) has apparently been dead for the last forty years. With the help of Agent O (Emma Thompson) €“ who fills in as Chief for the now-departed Agent Zed (played by Rip Torn in the previous entries) €“ he realises that a dangerous alien felon, Boris (Jemaine Clement), has travelled into the past and murdered K as revenge for sending him to prison. Thus, J must himself time travel back and save not only the younger K (Josh Brolin), but the world. Men in Black 3 is a film that really should not work, but Sonnenfeld and co. appear to have taken on board the complaints of the previous entry €“ that it was a lazy, laughably short rehash of the original €“ and created something here that is for the most part inventive and entertaining. What strikes initially is how much edgier the film feels right out of the gate, not letting a €œPG€ rating affect the number of violent head-stabbings that occur in the first few minutes alone. It almost feels inappropriate, but following on from the anodyne last effort, it is very much welcome. One valid complaint is that, through the narrative€™s sheer nature, Jones and Smith get barely 15-minutes of screen time to share their signature banter before he is €œkilled off€ to make way for Josh Brolin€™s more youthful counterpart. Thankfully, Brolin is such an asset to the film €“ its saving grace in many aspects €“ that it is easy to forget Jones€™ absence. His rendition of Jones€™ mannerisms and speech pattern is frighteningly, hilariously spot-on, and as the ever-so-slightly hipper, happier counterpart of Agent K, brings some much-needed humanity to the character. In fact, it is often cast more than script which lends MIB3 its charm; Flight of the Conchords€™ Jermain Clement is a menacing, imposing villain, easily trumping the campier, more comedy-centric stylings of Lara Flynn-Boyle in the previous film. Meanwhile, established comic thesps such as Bill Hader and Will Arnett provide apt supporting work €“ the former as Andy Warhol, an undercover MIB, didn€™t you know, and the latter as J€™s new partner in the distorted timeline. The best of all, though, is A Serious Man€™s Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin, an alien capable of anticipating all possible futures, put to clever and often hilarious effect throughout the film. Next to his more, well, serious work with the Coens, it is nice to see that he has a vast acting range. Smith, of course, will be the key attraction for many, and he does not disappoint; while chemistry with Jones is a no-brainer for their brief screen dalliance here, his verbal sparring with Brolin is no-less potent. In fact, the entire time travel conceit proved to be a smart gamble €“ one apparently suggested by Smith in the first place €“ for it provides the film with an unexpectedly affecting emotional dimension in its latter course, as the unfortunate nature of J€™s young family life is detailed in a diverting and intelligent manner. This unexpected attention-to-detail with regard to the characters - as well as some smart time travel-related humour - makes it easy to forgive the film€™s less-judicious moments, as well as the countless plot holes that its time travel premise invites. It isn€™t a patch on the original, but following the disappointing sequel, this is a peppy, effervescent third film which excites and satisfies even in the face of a lackluster, oft-invisible 3D presentation. An early surprise for the summer, Men in Black 3 defies the odds as a fun, flawed romp with an unexpectedly sweet, affecting climax. But they need to call it a day here. Men in Black 3 is in cinemas now.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.