Those of you looking forward to the return of the Men in Black franchise this week will hopefully approach Men in Black 3 (MiB3, 2012) with a sentimental fondness for the snappy 1997 original, rather than it’s bitterly poor 2002 sequel. No matter what various other bloodthirsty film critics tell you, Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black 3 is a vast, vast improvement on its flabby predecessor. That’s not to say that this latest outing for the black suited alien wranglers is the stuff of popcorn legend. In a post-Avengers Assemble (2012) world, this third entry into the franchise at times feels like a tired, creaking 90s throwback.
The special effects have undoubtedly improved, and if you care to watch it in 3D it’s visually impressive in parts, but despite Sonnenfeld’s best efforts to inject some youthful vigour into the Men in Black universe, there is an unmistakable nostalgic waft of Werther’s Originals. When Agent K’s (Tommy Lee Jones) life and the fate of the planet are put at risk, his wise-cracking partner Agent J (Will Smith) takes it upon himself to travel back in time to right the wrongs of the future. Seeking assistance in this unfamiliar era, J teams up with the young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to save his partner, the agency, and the future of humankind.
You can forgive Jones for his involvement here; like his world-weary Agent K, Jones is of pensionable age and his screen time is limited to little more than a cameo appearance. Will Smith, on the other hand, might be no spring chicken, but no amount of hair dye can mask the fact that he’s a man low on energy (this is his first film in four years) and badly in need of career guidance.
Smith might still be one of the most bankable stars in the industry, but during his long hiatus he had ample time to reinvent himself and line up some riskier and more challenging roles. However, if you look at his current ‘to do’ list – the M. Night Shyamalan alien movie After Earth (2013) and the rumoured triple header of Hancock 2, I, Robot 2 (2015) and Bad Boys 3 – you’d be forgiven for wondering what has happened to the cocky actor who had the balls to take on the role of Muhammad Ali.
Elsewhere, Brolin, as the younger Agent K, is perfectly fine in his Jones-aping role, but his relationship with Smith’s J warranted further exploration. Jermaine Clement’s super villain Boris the Animal is fairly one-dimensional and suffers from a distinct lack of menace, but that’s not particularly Clement’s fault – the franchise has a history of weak bad guys, due to a combination of poor writing and (potentially) Smith’s unwillingness to be upstaged. Emma Thompson and Alice Eve as the older and younger Agent O are also criminally underused, and their relationship with Agent K is hinted at rather than developed.
All in all, Men in Black 3 is an average Hollywood blockbuster that will just about hold your interest and keep you entertained on a rainy weekend. Yet with this kind of budget and talent on board, average is not really good enough, especially with Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises just on the horizon.