Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Yes, I said “nearly perfect!” While everyone is oohing and aahing over Avengers, don’t make the mistake of missing Men in Black 3. It’s absolutely not Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Barry Sonnenfeld & Company have turned in a textbook example of how to make a sequel, even more than a decade since the last.
The winning buddy cops-slash-intergalactic INS agents formula has lost none of its freshness since the 1997 original team-up of Agents J and K played by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. If anything, the bit has grown and deepened as the actors and the franchise have gotten a little older. The worldbuilding remains original and exciting, and the time travel storyline only builds on that, in really fun and impressive ways.
As is pretty clear from the trailer, the story involves Agent J (Smith) traveling back in time to 1969 to work with a young Agent K, played by Josh Brolin (Milk, No Country for Old Men, Jonah Hex, Goonies). It makes for a great mash-up of two classic sci-fi favorites, aliens + time travel. The details of life in 1969–from Andy Warhol (SNL’s Bill Hader) to the Apollo 11 moon launch–are wonderfully wrought, particularly the gorgeous retro/space-age technology used by the MIB agency (watch for Agent K’s battery-operated neuralizer).
Performances turned in by all the cast range from solid to fantastic. Plenty has been said in the press already of Brolin’s eerie channeling of Tommy Lee Jones’s established Agent K–but his performance is more than mere imitation. He fully inhabits the role and makes it his own, a la Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films. And his performance as the younger K shows us an entirely new side of the gruff agent, which drives the film’s emotional arc and provides much of the story’s heart.
Will Smith is top notch, as ever, proving that he remains one of the best actors of his generation. Thanks to sharp scriptwriting by Etan Cohen (King of the Hill, Tropic Thunder), Agent J’s unique brand of swaggering humor rattles through the whole picture, providing many of the film’s sensational high points, from needling prickly partner K to guzzling chocolate milk to mouthing off to 1969 police officers. But the best line of the whole movie is delivered by little Violet O’Hara of Apartment 5K. It’s quiet, so keep your ears open. Most of the audience in our showing missed it completely.
Equally impressive, and for which the filmmakers should be complimented, is the secondary cast, including several less recognizable actors. In particular, Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire) provides some of the movie’s best moments, and was a real pleasure to watch as Griffin, a sort of prescient alien whose combination of knowledge and innocence makes him curiously endearing, reminiscent of a young Robin Williams’s Mork from Ork. Rounding out the cast is Emma Thompson, in a fun role as Agent O (replacing Rip Torn’s Agent Zed as director of MIB).
If there are missteps, I’d have to say that Jones looks a little tired, and not in the worn-down-by-the-job way from MIB 1 and 2. Fortunately, most of Agent K is performed by Brolin in the scenes taking place in the past, and his energy leaves nothing wanting. My biggest “complaint,” and the only reason I didn’t think the movie was perfect… well, unfortunately, that would be a spoiler. Suffice it to say that there was a moment in the resolution we were led to expect, but the actual finish (although surprising) packed that much less emotional punch. Hence, the teeny-tiny deduction. Definitely not any reason to miss this great summer flick!