One of the more interesting things about Will Smith famously passing on Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained a short while back was that it was ostensibly because it would be a departure from his usual sorts of roles and interfere with his publicity campaign for Men in Black 3. Men in Black 3 is a near guaranteed hit for the star and the sort of safe, innocuous “movie star” type roles he’s known for. And the fact that it turned out to be a fairly bad film is a bit shocking, if only because Smith is known for at least making films of a certain level of quality.
Smith returns as Agent J of the secret government unit Men in Black. They handle everything related to extraterrestrials living on Earth and he’s the junior partner to K (Tommy Lee Jones), an old hand who first recruited J to the agency in the first film. This time around one of J’s old antagonists Boris (Jemaine Clement) has broken out of prison and gone back in time to erase K from the history book, ostensibly to lead an alien invasion of modern day Earth. J opts to go back in time to the point where K was killed before his time to right history, interacting with a 1969 version of K (Josh Brolin) as they go through late 1960s culture to stop K’s death from happening.
It’s an intriguing premise, of course, as J gets to interact with the younger version of his partner and throw off their buddy cop dynamic to a certain extent. Throw in the fish out of water scenario and there’s a fairly intriguing premise to be found in a summer blockbuster. But the problem is that the film doesn’t do much with any of the inherently intriguing factors it brings to the table.
It feels too … safe.
There’s nothing new or original about this film that wasn’t already done, and done better, in the franchise’s two prior films. It’s slightly more refined now, as the “aliens on Earth” storyline isn’t played up for the “fish out of water” aspect that the first film touched on (and the second used slightly), but there isn’t anything exciting about any of this. We’ve seen nearly anything before and there’s no attempt by anyone involved at trying to give us a slight reinvention. The plot is a nice twist to it but not enough is done with it besides the clichéd moments that even a blind man could see coming.
This is just a rehash of everything we’ve seen before, with the occasional vintage hippie on the screen, and everyone seems to be sleepwalking in this. Jones, who’s relegated to slightly beyond a cameo in the film, doesn’t do much with the same character he’s played in two prior films. Smith does the same but in his usual manner.
Smith has honed J to an art but he’s not anything different from the sort of stock character Will Smith plays in nearly every film he’s in. J was the role that he’s essentially played since the film was a hit and gave him that final bonafide as a film star; it’s a refined and better honed version of his character from Bad Boys and Independence Day, of course, but essentially the “Will Smith” character in the way that John Wayne played every character as the “John Wayne” character.
Brolin is intriguing as the younger K, aping all of Jones’ mannerisms of the character perfectly but given nothing to really work with. This is Josh Brolin playing the K part as opposed to doing anything intriguing with it; they could’ve easily used makeup to make Tommy Lee Jones look younger and accomplished the same result. A funnier version of it could’ve been Jones not using makeup at all, of course, but Brolin does an admirable job as the younger K.
Other than that, though, not enough actors are given enough screen time to leave an impression. Bill Hader makes for a great scene as a MIB agent in disguise as Andy Warhol, and Alice Eve is never dull on the eyes, but no one besides Smith and Brolin are given any sort of wealth of screen time. It normally wouldn’t matter if either character was presenting something engaging but at this point the franchise is on auto-pilot. This is a film made to complete a trilogy and try and get some cash out of a franchise, nothing more.
It’s always interesting to read advance reviews of a film, especially one like this that had plenty of turmoil in production, in that the common theme is “it didn’t suck as much as I thought it would” based on all of the struggles of the film (including not going into production with a finished shooting script). But here’s the thing: just because it wasn’t the worst film ever made doesn’t necessarily make it a good film. Or even one that’s mediocre. Men in Black 3 is a stinker of a film, nothing more.
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld Writer: Etan Cohen, based on “The Men in Black” by Lowell Cunningham Notable Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Emma Thompson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bill Hader, Alice Eve