Barry Sonnenfeld

Review: Men In Black III

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The Pitch: Special Ks.

The Review: When I was growing up, the likes of Tomorrow’s World on TV always fascinated with their unlikely and outlandish gadgets, like machines that could print on the outside of an egg without breaking it, shiny discs that contained a whole album’s worth of music, or small flashing pens that could erase your memory. Well, I can’t actually remember seeing neuralisers on there, but they must be real, as surely nothing else can explain how I can’t remember anything that happened in Men In Black 2? I definitely saw it, and I vaguely remember Rosario Dawson being in it, but other than that one of the most downright disappointing sequels of all time seems to have been forever expunged from my grey cells. Is the only solid argument for another sequel, so long after the second in the series, that it’s being produced in the hope people might remember it this time?

The one immutable of the series has always been the presence and the star power of Big Willie. Since rapping out the theme for the first movie, one of the world’s biggest stars has become synonymous with the MIB brand and he’s front and centre in MIB 3, so much so that this rapidly becomes his journey, his narrative and emotional arc, not least because the universe manages to forget his partner about ten minutes in. While Smith is as reliable as ever, the movie does take something of a risk by shuffling Tommy Lee Jones out early on and replacing him with Josh Brolin, but it’s a brave call and one that pays off well, Brolin’s uncanny version of an unfeasibly young K never causing you to doubt for a second that he is the pre-incarnation of the curmudgeonly Jones, and Smith and Brolin thankfully manage to capture just about the same odd couple chemistry that Smith and Jones did previously.

The reason for the body swap is time travel, an old fallback of the sci-fi genre and one that can work very well, but that can also become catastrophically confused in the wrong hands. Other than the opportunity to interact with a few historical scenarios, such as a well thought-out Andy Warhol sequence, and to see Brolin do his thing, the time travel never feels fully exploited, and also isn’t applied entirely consistently throughout the film. Men In Black also stood out for its freakish bad guy as well as its coterie of unusual aliens, and this also feels another partial success, Jermaine Clement’s bad guy generating moderate amounts of menace but feeling oddly bland at times. Emma Thompson and Alice Eve also leave little impression as the replacement for Rip Torn’s Z, written out no doubt to Torn’s real life exploits. The rest of the quality of the original, from the background alien design of Rick Baker to the jaunty Danny Elfman theme, is present, correct and reassuringly familiar.

What Men In Black 3 does lack most is big laughs. The series has never been laugh out loud funny, but there’s never more than mild chuckles raised here. But what it does lack in laughs it makes up for with an emotional core, driven out of J’s relationship with both generations of K and the plot’s success in giving their partnership a real sense of meaning lacking in both of the earlier sequels. The most enjoyment will be derived from slightly resetting your expectations, as director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen focus on the relationship and the characters, and most unexpectedly those not entirely hard of heart may even shed a little tear at the end, and even with time travel you’d have done well to see that coming. For all the rumours that the script arrived half-finished, the plot is maybe the most satisfying of the series and while you might not be longing for a fourth trip to the alien well, it might at least take you a little longer to forget this one.

Why see it at the cinema: The opening prison escape and the final Apollo 11 set-piece are both well designed and justify their place on the inside of a multiplex this summer. The cinema screen also gives you the best chance of capturing all of the tiny background details first time, including all of the celebs-who-are-really-aliens on the screens at the back.

The Score: 7/10