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The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Men in Black 3 Goes Back in Time and Brings Back the 90s

Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief


 

There’s a scene in Men in Black 3 where Agent J (Will Smith) says he’s been working for the MIB agency for fourteen years. I always feel my age when a sequel (or in this case, a threequel) makes mention of how much time has passed. In the case of the Men in Black franchise the humor slowly becomes more dated as the years go, these movies sadly don’t age well. With that said, that’s not to say Men in Black 3 is a bad movie. In fact, for a third outing it’s fun, energetic, and boasts some fine performances. It’s just obvious these movies are relics of a generation gone by.

When the alien Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) breaks out of the Lunar Max prison, he goes to seek vengancence on Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) who captured him. With the aid of a time travel device Boris creates a time rift where Agent K was killed back in 1969. Agent J (Smith) must fix said rift and returns to 1969 to prevent the now young Agent K (Josh Brolin) from meeting the same fate.

The whole time travel element is the general way to wipe the slate clean and create an entirely new canon. Considering that the 2002 Men in Black 2 was fairly atrocious it was obvious director Barry Sonnenfeld and crew needed to make audiences forget that, and they succeeded. The opening moments of MIB3 are fun in establishing that old K is hiding a secret from J and the break-out of Boris. In fact the Moon jail is a well-done effect set-piece that sadly is given a few minutes and then discarded.

From there the movie truly hits its stride in 1969 and the introduction of young K. Josh Brolin is eerie playing Agent K. He doesn’t impersonate Jones so much as inhabit the character. Both actors can play that stoic, internal type of character and by the mid-way point of the movie you’re kind of wishing that Brolin would stay with the series as a whole; he’s that compelling. He also has a strong rapport with Smith and while the one-liners aren’t flying as much in this movie, they do have a lot of fun together. Sadly, this makes Jones a one-trick pony, relegated to the beginning and end of the film. He doesn’t have quite the heartfelt connection to Smith as in previous ventures but there is a scene where old K is on the phone with J, and the emotion showing on Jones’ face is heart-wrenching.  Smith himself plays the same cocky Agent J he’s always been.  It’s not bad nor is it particuarly new…it works.  

By that same token, Jemaine Clement is a pretty weak villain as Boris.  In comparison to the bug Edgar of the first film, Clement’s biker Boris looks like an Easy Rider reject with Tim Curry’s voice.  You never fear him or find him a worthy foe because he’s so over-dramatic and it’s almost as if the voice has been modified.  With the first film the bug was made up of millions of bugs with the threat being they could all come together and destroy Earth.  In this film Boris the lone member of his race and sure the impetus for J to go back in time is to prevent their invasion but we never see it (no budget?) so what’s the fear?  Clement is too hammy, at least Vincent D’Onofrio had the aid of special effects to prevent his campiness; here Clement is just…Clement.  

The film follows a straightforward narrative throughout its hour and 40 minute runtime which puts the aliens on the backburner. The world of the MIB has already been established with the first film and sadly, that’s always been the problem of the sequels: how to find a new way to propel this dimension forward. The special effects in this are fantastic, regardless. Boris is constructed of various claws that pop out in the most unique ways. An insect-like weapon that comes out of hand is particularly squirm-inducing and is a well done effect on a smaller scale. Once the film hits 1969 it’s all about making the audience say “hey I know that.” Case in point there’s appearances from Andy Warhol (played hilariously by Bill Hader), the Apollo moon landing, and other 1960s ephemra. It does the same thing as the recent Dark Shadows in that it doesn’t create a world, it just creates pop culture moments.

The time travel story is tightly wound and with all the adventures Brolin and Smith have you get wrapped up in the story and truly forget what is going on. You don’t have time to nitpick, you just have fun which makes this a perfect Saturday matinee film. The conclusion does tie the film into the existing canon (albeit in an INCREDIBLY trite, cliché, and treacle way) but the film didn’t need to make the effort so it gets a nod for trying.

It might seem like I’ve bashed MIB3, not the case. It’s a film that wears its flaws proudly on its sleeve. For a third installment, and considering two was crap, I didn’t expect to leave the theater pleased in the least. Instead, I was able to enter into the story and have fun with Agent J and K (younger obviously). The jokes make feel like the 90s and Will Smith just plays Will Smith but the first MIB was heavily steeped in the 90s so it’s appropriate that the third film makes you feel the same way.

Grade:

Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief

Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.

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