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Men in Black III

A movie directed by Barry Sonnenfeld

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At The Very Least It's Fun, But Far From Being Bad

  • Jul 11, 2012
In 1997 the first Men in Black movie came out.  It was different, it was weird.  It exceeded expectations.  So when Men in Black 2 came out in 2002 it was exciting to see... but they did nothing to expand upon anything.  No new characters, new rules or anything.  And then they backtracked by trying to write Tommy Lee Jones back into the movie which meant that our villain was... stupid.  Men in Black 3 doesn't have to try to be better than the second movie because the second movie was so terrible that this movie already better just by NOT being called "Men In Black 2."  Problem is, the movie is still forgettable.  At least Men in Black 2 can be remembered for being a terrible movie.  Men in Black 3 isn't bad but it's got nothing that really makes it stand out. 

Men in Black 3 is mostly about Agent Jay and Agent Kay's relationship.  At least it tries to be.  See, it turns out that an alien named Boris the Animal, who has been imprisoned on a base on the moon for years has finally managed to escape and he wants revenge on Kay.  Instead of just killing him, however, he decides to go back in time and kill Agent Kay himself.  Once he goes back in time this causes Agent Kay to disappear from existence.  It's up to Agent Jay to then travel back to the year 1969 and save him, while also stopping Boris the Animal. 

That's the plot in a nutshell.  Jay manages to get a hold of a device that lets him travel back in time in by jumping off the roof of a really tall building so that he can time travel. 

As usual, there's something that's hard to ignore with a movie like this.  Men in Black 3 has the terrible misfortune of using Time Travel within the confines of the movie itself.  But unlike other movies or video games or books that use time travel... Men in Black 3 uses it as a plot device only.  What is strange, however, is that Men in Black 3 doesn't opt to set forth any rules for time travel.  And nothing happens to the device he uses to put him in any sort of dilemma.  To give you a strange example: The first Back to the Future movie has Marty go back in time.  The situation is different, but at least when Marty screws up we're not wondering why he doesn't just travel through time again.  He can't the Delorean needs to be repaired and fixed.  Likewise the movie begins to establish rules.  If Marty changes history, he could erase something--including himself.  And while Back to the Future doesn't establish EVERY rule up front (it saves the idea of "not running into yourself," for the second movie) it gives us the general idea that time travel is serious business and that there are consequences for doing it.  Men in Black 3 doesn't do much to establish any sort of rules or structure.  Is it possible that there are more consequences to Time Travel?

That's probably a small nitpick, but what isn't is that with a lot of movies involving Time Travel, you can have a lot of strange plot holes and explanations.  When Kay is erased from time, for instance, Jay seems to be the only ones who knows he existed while everyone else forgets.  The movie offers up an explanation as to why he's the only one who remembers there WAS an Agent Kay, but it's not enough.  Case in point, the screenplay just isn't that well thought out for it.

But there's another thing Time Travel movies ought to do.  Especially when traveling back in time: Remember the era they're traveling back to.  And Men in Black 3 doesn't seem to care for that at all.  Agent Jay is a black man traveling back to 1969.  The movie only takes on moment to illustrate that perhaps there was some racial tension and it's only to make a strange joke about how black people steal cars because they're black.  It's actually a funny joke, but at no other point in time does Jay ever face any hostility.  At no point in time does it feel like Jay or the audience is really in 1969.  There are, of course a few fashion trends you'll see, but Jay himself is never forced to realize he's actually back in 1969 that much.  In fact, if the movie didn't tell you that you did travel back in time you'd probably just as soon forget this portion of the movie happened.

Except for Josh Brolin as a younger Agent Kay.  And he's delightful in this movie.  In fact, all the acting is.  Will Smith is great.  Tommy Lee Jones, for the amount of time he's in here, is also great.  But the gold medal goes to Josh Brolin, whom I'm convinced is a wizard among actors.  His impression of a young Agent Kay is spot on.  In fact, he's almost exactly how you'd picture a younger Kay to be.  There's nothing about him that is strangely out of character or anything like that.  Plus, it's nice to see that the MIB actually was evolving over the decades it had been there.  When the movie opts to actually point out certain differences in the time periods it's actually good about it.  I just wish it had been much better about showcasing the characters within them.  It's generally a good movie to look at because of all the stuff it happens to do so very well in this regard.  From a production stand point just about everything Men in Black 3 offers is pretty good.

And the story isn't a complete waste either.  The actual idea is interesting in and of itself.  Going back in time to stop the assassination of Kay by an alien who wants vengeance.  Boris the Animal is no where near as compelling as the giant cockroach in the first Men in Black.  But he's aeons ahead of the crappy Victoria's Secret model that was only there to bring teenage boys to sexual awakening.  There's not a lot of depth to him, but at least we get the sense that he's actually a genuinely threatening person.  And because we don't have to waste so much time getting Kay's memory back or anything like that it's really easy not to be distracted from the actual plot at hand.  So Men in Black 3 manages to nullify quite a few problems from the second film.

But then again it also makes some of the exact same mistakes.  Part of what worked about the first movie was how everyone could identify with Jay because he was new to the MIB.  He's just as clueless about half of what goes on as we are in the audience.  By the second film he's as cynical and jaded as Kay but there's still a lot that Jay doesn't know despite having been there for five years by the time MIB 2 comes around.  In MIB 3 he's been there for fifteen years and yet for some odd reason, while being a senior among the MIB he's still not allowed to really know a lot of things.  The mystery is gone.  There's no need for Jay to be portrayed as being green and not knowing anything anymore.  That stuff is over now.  It's okay that there are still things he has left to discover, but MIB 3 never really uses it to flesh out or bring out Jay's character anymore.  Instead it relies on you hoping that you still remember the every man he was from the first film. 

The attempt that MIB 3 does try to make, however, is trying to flesh out Kay.  Jay seems to think that there's something in Kay's past that caused him to be so jaded and cynical.  Luckily for Jay, he's going to have to go back into the past anyway.  There is a sort of strange attempt to show that perhaps something really did change Kay for the best.  But when you learn just what it is it'll bring up a whole host of questions that the movie can't possibly answer for you.  And that's a bad thing because those who think too much will already have a lot to think about with Men in Black 3.

Men in Black 3 isn't bad at all.  It's actually even fun at times.  You'll laugh.  There are even some heartwarming moments.  But it's hard to ignore some of the screenplays faults.  And we're not talking dialog.  We're mostly talking how Men in Black 3 does little to cover it's bases.  Not that we NEED answers, but that MIB 3 doesn't even opt for ambiguity.  You're just left scratching your head at some of the things which happen.  Aside from not really establishing anything with it's time travel, Men in Black 3 opts to never even address the idea that Men in Black is known for expressing to us: That the universe is bigger than us.  What made the first film so great was how it really emphasized this idea that not only are we not alone in the universe, but that we may not even be all that important within it.  Basically what I'm saying is that Men in Black 3, much like the second installment, simply doesn't opt to expand on the universe it introduced us to.

But is Men in Black 3 bad?  Heaven's no.  In fact a lot of it is rather enjoyable.  It's got some good performances and good humor and even a time or two when it's got good action.  It's just quite as fun as the first film and doesn't have quite as much (outside of Josh Brolin) that really stands out.  It's a fun movie that's worth watching for a little break.

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July 12, 2012
Excellent commentary and insight. Back to the Future was one of my favorite all-time trilogies and yes the rules of time travel did make the movie work. These movies are more "comedies" than serious sci-fi so it would be easy to forget about any time travel rules. I totally hated #2 other than the fact that it was my introduction to Rosario Dawson. While I was at a multiplex waiting for The Avengers to start I watched the first 40 minutes of this film and found that I didn't want to see anymore (I saw it up to the incident in the Chinese restaurant). I will probably wait to take the DVD out of the library when it is available for this.
July 12, 2012
I have to admit, though its script had its weaknesses, the performances and the villain in this movie was quite interesting. This was a fun movie--not the kind you would write home about, but surely it was a good popcorn flick.
More Men in Black III reviews
review by . May 26, 2012
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The original 1997 film “Men in Black” was a hit and was loosely inspired-based on the comic series by Aricel comics (later on owned by Malibu comics). Despite deviations from the comic book series (Agents J and K investigated all paranormal activities that included ghosts, demons and monsters besides extra-terrestrial lifeforms), the original film was clever, funny and definitely took the viewer into this fantastic world where aliens lived among us. The chemistry between Will Smith and …
review by . June 14, 2012
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*** out of ****    "Men in Black" was released in 1997 to positive reactions from both critics and movie-goers alike. It was praised for its innovative premise, inventive creature designs, and a believable chemistry shared between the leads. In 2002, a sequel was released; and neither fans nor critics were impressed. After that little mishap, it was made pretty darn clear that no one really cared whether they continued the franchise from that point on or not. Well, after a ten …
review by . May 30, 2012
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      Playing it safe is not always the resolution to achieve success with your movie. Was playing it safe this time helpful? On one hand it was because the final stage was better set than the previous one. One the other hand it wasn't because they relied too much on Josh Brolin and on the franchise' popularity. It's irritating because I realized that they could have made something more epic if they had given more heart to the project. I'm also satisfied at the …
review by . June 06, 2012
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The original MEN IN BLACK was memorable because it was a quirky sci-fi movie that had just the right balance of comedy and action. MEN IN BLACK 2 followed in that same vein, but the film wasn't as strong and felt more like a retread. MEN IN BLACK 2 was released in 2002 and a decade later (due to script issues, scheduling conflicts, and budget problems), the boys are back in MEN IN BLACK 3 and while the film isn't as funny as the original, it's a far superior film to MEN IN BLACK 2.   …
review by . May 23, 2012
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'Men In Black 3' Two Jews On Film Agree It's The Best One Yet (Video)
   By Joan Alperin Schwartz      Okay people...They are back...      Those alien fighting dudes, in their black sport jackets, white shirts, skinny ties, shooting gadgets that can wipe your memory clean, faster than you can say 'The Martians Are Coming'      Not only are they back, after a fifteen year absence, but...Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent J (Will Smith) are better than …
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Star Rating:         Time travel movies are so difficult to get right. If they’re taken too seriously, the plot tends to get bogged down by confusing and abstract theoretical concepts, which often times fail to fully explain how and why certain things could have happened. If they’re not taken seriously enough, the story can fall victim to the impulsive and preposterous whims of the filmmakers. Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black 3 tells a time travel story …
review by . May 24, 2012
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        It has been 15 years since J was recruited by K to join the Men In Black and a decade since the last time we heard from these agents.  Time has not been kind to this franchise, which really should have just stopped after the first movie.  But after such a successful original story, and huge star power from Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones you can't blame the producers for trying to recapture the magic from the original.  That is what Men …
Quick Tip by . September 10, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Saw this on board the Singapore Airline flight just last week. Not bad entertainment and certainly feels like a trend on the recent moviesl the handover of old cast to the new (ie. Batman, Spiderman, Bourne Legacy, etc...). Except this one goes back in time to the partner in his youth. An end to triology perhaps?!
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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