After a ten year absence, Agents J and K return to fight off yet another alien invasion; though this one is smaller and more intimate than the ones that came before.
The Men in Black have grown up. Will Smith’s Agent J, especially, is not the goofy wisecracking sidekick that he was in the first two films of the series. He’s now a ‘senior agent,’ and he’s actually believable in that role.
In the first two Men In Black movies, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) struggled with his role in the MIB, and the life not lived that he passed up in favor of service. This time, he’s much more settled, if not content, in his ways. His story arc with Agent J involves their lack of personal connection, despite J’s attempts to get to know him better.
There’s a funeral at the beginning in which K lists the various ways the deceased never made a personal connection to him, and then remarks that ‘he was a good man.’ In the course of movie, we learn that the root of K’s reticence is practical and experiential, but it seems to have pathological in his old age. He’s just an old man, set in his ways.
A thuggish alien, Boris the Animal (played by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords), breaks free from a prison on the moon, and goes back in time to kill K before the young agent has a chance to arrest him in the first place. Clement is an unexpected actor for such a role, but he throws himself into it, and significant makeup effects do the rest.
The lone villain with a personal grudge really centers the story in Men In Black 3 in a way that was lacking in the first two entries. Men in Black 1 and 2 were like an arms race, each scene endlessly trying to one-up the weirdness of the scene before it. The result was increasingly silly and distracting. The third movie, by contrast, offers a simple story based on character. It’s not terribly deep or tragic, but it’s believable and relatable. The premise is no longer the star.
The ’60s setting is a nice change of pace, and it further serves to sever J and K from the MIB as a whole, keeping the focus on them and their story. I like that they tried to show the ’60s-versions of their technology, but it was inconsistent. For instance, K used a neuralizer that took up an entire room, then a few minutes later, he had a battery-powered one attached to his belt. By the way, Josh Brolin does a great Tommy Lee Jones impression in the role of ‘Young K.’
Men in Black 3 is the best film in the series. It has the maturity and confidence to tell a simple character story, without relying on big, flashy, computer animated spectacle. The Men in Black, both the characters and the movie series, have grown up.