When we last saw MEN IN BLACK II (2002), that was like 10 years ago. So what's been keeping off MEN IN BLACK 3 to arrive sooner back then? To begin with, this long-delayed third installment of the successful MEN IN BLACK franchise has gone a treacherous journey to finally make it to the big screen -- troubled shoot without a finished script, production delays, and a particularly controversial Will Smith's 53-foot trailer (nicknamed "The Heat") which angered Manhattan residents during the filming process last year. And thanks to all the delays and hiatuses, MEN IN BLACK 3 costs a staggering $215 million budget to complete this notoriously-difficult production. When this movie finally came out, I went in with a low expectation (after all, a big-budget tentpole movie with so much negative buzz is always a disaster). But to my surprise, MEN IN BLACK 3 proves to be quite a decent sequel. The good news is, this third installment is a huge improvement over the messy MEN IN BLACK II. But the bad news is, this movie doesn't quite matches the entertainment level of the first MEN IN BLACK (1997).
The movie opens with Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement of TV's Flight of the Conchords) made his daring escape with the help of his latex-wearing girlfriend (Nicole Scherzinger) from the intergalactic maximum-security prison Lunar-Max and heads for Earth with a one goal in his mind: to seek vengeance on Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) for the severed arm he suffered at Cape Canaveral back in 1969. So he comes up with an elaborate plan where he acquires a time-jump device to travel back to 1969 in hope to kill K and rewrite history.
When K ends up disappearing without a trace, it's up to his trusty partner, Agent J (Will Smith) to make things right. With the help of the time-jump device, he must stop Boris from killing K by going back to 1969 as well. Once there, he befriends with the younger K (Josh Brolin) and subsequently work together to prevent Boris from creating havoc once and for all.
With a huge budget of $215 million at the disposal, you would have thought that the filmmakers at least justify those hefty price tag to come up something bigger than the previous two MEN IN BLACK movies had shown before. Instead everything here are decidedly low-key approach. Apart from the exciting shootout in a Chinese restaurant run by aliens, a particularly dizzying and spectacular freefall from a Chrysler Building that breaks the space-time continuum, and an entertaining climax atop the Apollo 11 launch in Cape Canaveral, much of the movie's entertainment value are very '90s-ish. Of course, it's nothing wrong for getting all nostalgia here but after 10 years' absence since the last MEN IN BLACK movie, this is all we get?
Story-wise, Etan Cohen's screenplay is terribly a mixed bag and only works in patches. The middle section is especially draggy in places, and it is particularly evident here for a movie which is shot without a finished script. The time-travel idea concocted by Will Smith himself is actually a fascinating addition to the premise, with some worthy gags that parodies the invention of certain devices (e.g. the oversized neuralizer technology) between the '60s and the millennium era. While the overall story is average at best, there are some nice touches that the script does take time to establish the characters between Agent J and the younger Agent K. The twist ending, which involves Agent J, is particularly touching.
Speaking of the younger Agent K, Josh Brolin makes up the majority absence of Tommy Lee Jones throughout the movie with his uncanny resemblance right down to Jones' deadpan wit. In fact, Brolin steals the show a lot from Will Smith with his entertaining performance that really says a lot here. For Will Smith himself, who's been absent from the big screen for 4 years since SEVEN POUNDS (2008), it's a relief to see him back here. Unlike Tommy Lee Jones who clearly aged a lot with all the wrinkles in his face, Will Smith is looks remarkably the same as we last saw him 10 years ago. Appearance aside, it's quite sad that Will Smith is no longer the major comedic talent he used to be during his heydays. Here, he's basically repeating himself with his usual swagger and frankly, his antic is getting old. Jemaine Clement, who shows some sinister promise as Boris earlier in the movie, is sadly reduced to fillers for the major bulk of the movie. For a movie that supposed to be the final series in the MEN IN BLACK trilogy, we should at least treated a well-worthy villain that justified the concluding chapter here. The rest of the supporting cast here are ranging from good to mere average (it's nice to see Emma Thompson stretches out some comedic flair, while I personally finds Michael Stuhlbarg's performance as Griffin who can see the future really annoying).
As for Barry Sonnenfeld, who's been absent from big-screen directing work since that 2006's dismal comedy RV, does shows some worthwhile sparks in his otherwise rusty direction here.
MEN IN BLACK 3 may not be as sensational as it used to be, but it's still a worthwhile movie especially for those who still fondly remembers the franchise.