Beware. This review is thorough and includes spoilers.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It can drive a movie to billion-dollar plus successes (see Toy Story 3), revive stuttering franchises, or simply critic-proof an awful belated sequel (see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Nostalgia’s probably not what will lead to Men in Black 3‘s inevitable success at the box office (things are already in motion. MIB3 earned an impressive $1.6M at midnight screenings last night), but it’ll probably be a contributing factor of some sort. After all, even if Men in Black 3 was awful, no one could stop the hordes of J and K fans heading to their nearest multiplex.
But as you’ve probably gathered by now, Men in Black 3 isn’t awful. It’s actually rather good. Starting with an excellent prison heist on the Moon, Men in Black 3 sprints out of the blocks in impressive fashion. Unfortunately, after a sprint start, Men in Black 3 proceeds to trip over its shoelaces and falls flat on his face once it moves to Earth. The first twenty minutes drag, and even with a shootout in a Chinese restaurant, it’s just dull and samey. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are still great, but there’s no life in the first act.
Surprisingly, it takes the disappearance of Lee Jones to kick-start the threequel. As soon as the veteran’s off-screen, the movie really begins. Josh Brolin, playing the young(er) Agent K, has already been lauded by many, but he really is excellent. Brolin nails every last part of Tommy Lee Jones’ performance and accent, and at a few points throughout the film, he exactly replicates Jones’ voice. Unlike the accepted standard of hiring someone to play a character’s younger self (‘He/she has the same colour of hair as the other actor, that’s fine’), Brolin really convinces as a younger Tommy Lee Jones.
The 1969 setting of the bulk of the film is also a highlight (if only for the brilliant Andy Warhol cameo), with the makers managing to avoid the trap of Austin Powers meets *insert movie set in the the era of Flower Power and ‘Make Love, Not War’*. Naturally for a movie set mostly in 1969, MIB3 heads to the launch of Apollo 11 for its climax. And what a climax it is. Without spoiling it, it’s genuinely thrilling and unpredictable, and features multiple enemies and lots of jumping about. And it’s kind of funny to see Will Smith and Josh Brolin fighting to save humanity, mixed in with people in a living room eating Fruit Loops and watching TV.
And onto the actors. Will Smith is one of the few actors still around who can drive a movie to success, and he’s on fine form here, even if he’s stuck on ‘puzzled at why Josh Brolin is so happy’ mode for the bulk of the movie. Tommy Lee Jones’ role is minimal, but he still does fine work with what he’s given. I’ve already talked about Josh Brolin above, but just to re-iterate, he’s excellent. The movie’s main surprise is Micheal Stuhlberg’s Griffin, an alien who can see all possible futures. Not only does he provide some of the movie’s funniest moments, he acts as a ‘Get out of jail free’ card if the movie starts to try to be ultra-intelligent. Jemaine Clement clearly has a hell of a time as villain Boris (even if he is a standard villain with a posh British accent. We’re not all evil, America!), and Nicole Scherzinger looks good… carrying a cake.
There are some negatives. The concept of racism in 1969 is touched upon, but the movie squanders the chance to explore it further. And there’s a gaping plot hole later on the subject of racism, too. The first third, as I’ve said, sags. Alice Eve and Emma Thompson deserved more screen-time then what they were given. The movie seems to be leading up to something huge, and what we get is impressive, but it does feel a little underwhelming after the hype (mainly coming from Griffin). It’s not as hilarious as you’d want a sci-fi comedy to be.
Oh, and the proper ending actually comes as a surprise. It’s probably the emotional highlight of the threequel, especially if you’re a fan of J and K. Men in Black 3 will probably be the last movie in the franchise, but it’s gone out with a bang. Literally, a bang. And a crash.
Don’t go expecting to see a movie on par with The Avengers, but Men in Black 3 is a strong, fun summer movie for all the family (well, at least on these shores, where anyone above the age of 7 can go and watch a movie where the word ‘s**t’ is said four times in less than a minute), and it nicely plugs the gap between The Avengers and the Big Two in July.
NOTE: This review is for the 2D version, hence the lack of comments about how the 3D was ‘better than Clash of the Titans‘.