The original Men in Black may be one of my favorite movies. It blends sci-fi and comedy together so well, providing a fascinating universe that’s presented to you through two endlessly witty characters. The second movie was…forgettable. And so I came into the third endlessly wary, not sure whether the “He smiles like this” joke was the only gag the movie had or if there was more to it. And I was pleasantly surprised.
After Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement with an incredible make-up job) escapes from prison, he goes back in time and kills the man who put him there in the first place: Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). So it’s up to Agent J (Will Smith) to go back in time and stop Boris, teaming up with the younger K (Josh Brolin) along the way.
The original movie pretty much lived on Tommy Lee Jones’ performance, and yet his role here basically amounts to a cameo before Josh Brolin takes over. And he does a good job. He’s could just be doing an impression of Jones, but there’s a different side to it as we see a K that’s clearly not as world-weary as his 2012 self. Perhaps most importantly, there was never a moment where I stopped and thought about how it’s Josh Brolin, not Tommy Lee Jones. From the moment he takes the screen, I simply accepted him as a younger K. The real winning performance of the movie, though, has to be Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin, an alien who views multiple dimensions at the same time. He hooked me from the second he came on-screen, and just keeps going as he speaks in a combination of riddles and ifs. It’s a character built on the quirks, and Stuhlbarg just sells it.
The movie’s main point that makes it work, though, is not sticking to formula. I have trouble remembering most of MIB2, but I do remember it feeling the need to repeat jokes, bring back side characters, and just trying to capture the magic again. MIB3 is more than happy to introduce new characters, new gags, and a new aspect to the world. Unfortunately, it does sacrifice some of the original movie’s unrelenting wit in the process. There are some hilarious moments, but 3 is definitely leaning more towards sci-fi and less towards comedy. This doesn’t hurt the movie. I enjoyed it even if I wasn’t laughing all the way through it. The new alien designs impressed me, especially Boris, who’s definitely going towards the nightmarish side. It also gets some more heart in the process. One of the big things J asks the younger K is “What happened to you?” and by the end, we find out the answer. It’s a good moment for the characters, and if there never is an MIB4, it’s a great way to end the franchise.
It’s not as good as the original, but MIB3 is worth seeing. It shows there’s still something to the series that we didn’t see before, and that’s as good a reason as any to revive the franchise.