When Men in Black came out in 1997, I was thirteen. Will Smith was a huge box office star (and he arguably still is), and his rap career was about to explode thanks to his album, Big Willie Style (1997). When I first saw Men in Black, I was a huge fan. I was impressed with the creative story and willingness to accept the absurdity of dealing with aliens. It was refreshing, funny, and entertaining. Then, in 2002, the less enjoyable sequel came out. It was still a box office success but not as widely regarded or enjoyed as the original.
Fast forward to 2012. Men in Black 3 seems like a logical film to finish a trilogy, but it also doesn’t seem necessary. The teenager in me was more than excited to see MIB3, but my expectations weren’t that high. However, as soon as the movie ended, I walked out of the theater incredibly impressed.
Men in Black 3 takes place fourteen years after the original. Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent J (Will Smith) are still partners. K is still old, cranky, and by the book. J is still the fun, sarcastic, ambitious, and unpredictable agent. The relationship between K and J worked fifteen years ago, and it still does. In fact, their relationship is the crux of the whole film.
The film begins with an elaborate prison break from Lunar Max, the super-high security prison for alien criminals on the moon. Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement) is regarded as the most dangerous prisoner there and, of course, is the first to escape. Boris has a magical little creature that lives in his hand and shoots an unlimited number of bone spikes, thus providing him with plenty of ammunition. He is hell-bent on escaping the Moon in order to have revenge on K for shooting his arm off forty years ago and putting him in prison.
It’s a simple enough plot and a wonderfully absurd reason for Boris’ evil motivations. Boris escapes back to Earth and seeks out the ability to travel back in time to kill K before he shoots his arm off. This is where the film really hits its stride. In a touching scene, K attempts to talk to an angry J about some universal secrets he hasn’t shared yet. J is furious that these secrets still exist after being partners with K for fourteen years. After J discontinues their conversation, K awaits a fight with Boris. But the fight never comes, and K literarily vanishes on the screen.
With Boris successfully killing K in the past, J must go back to 1969 (when K dies) to save him and the world. Back in 1969, young K (Josh Brolin) is a fun loving, young, hotshot agent. Brolin masterfully captures the character of K but still adds his personal touches. He isn’t as cranky, and there are moments of true emotion. J’s ongoing joke is always, “What happened to you?” Because of the sophistication of the relationship between the young K and J, the film offers more than just popcorn- and explosion-fodder entertainment. It actually creates something more important: a character-based film with people you actually care about.
Without going into details, the climax of the movie is exciting, thrilling, and heartbreaking. The consequences redefine the entire trilogy for the characters. In fact the climax of Men in Black 3 makes the first film even better and will only improve it with repeated viewings of the trilogy.
From a geek perspective, Men in Black 3 is also one of the single best examples of the depiction of time travel in recent films. The cause and effect consequences of meddling with time are all apparent, thought out, and used perfectly in various parts of the film. It’s an almost realistic take on time travel. There are no apparent time paradoxes created, and it’s not a plot that is challenging to ponder within its various timelines.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld has been hit or miss in his career (mostly hit), but he nails it here. His vision for color and character contrast is his masterstroke, and this is one of his best achievements yet as a director.
Men In Black 3 is by far the best of the trilogy and a wonderful way to end the series (hopefully, but unlikely). Yes, it’s a great popcorn, summer blockbuster, but thanks to a creative, funny, and entertaining screenplay, it has the makings of a film to be much appreciated long after its theatrical release.