It took mere seconds for the nervous sweats to set in. The stale stench of popcorn mixed with the aroma of shattered hopes, and what I hope is not stale urine. Like walking into the middle of someone elses break up, I instantly knew I shouldn’t be there; there was no way this was going to end well. Why had I thought this was a good idea?! Why had anyone thought this would be a good idea?
Will Smith hasn’t released a film in 3 years, leaving the Earth unprotected for three consecutive summers. His presence in summer blockbusters has been a comfortingly reliable standby, like knowing your grandmother will give you socks for Christmas: not the coolest thing ever, but it gets the job done. Upon hearing the news of Smith’s return to alien slaughtering in Men in Black 3, I became giddy with excitement. There was no logic in this sudden burst of excitement. It was purely guttural, rising from a place of clandestine immaturity and under-developed nerdery. I did not realize it at the time, but I’d been conditioned, from a young age, to associate Will Smith with unbridled fun. Undoing this conditioning, as it turns out, requires one viewing of MiB3 followed by 2 glasses of wine, 3 episodes of Community, and a good, long cry (actual duration of crying may vary from person to person).
Each trailer had shown glimpses of everything you would expect from Barry Sonnenfeld (MiB, MiB2, Wild Wild West): goofy anachronistic scifi, sprinkled with action and liberally seasoned with jokey catchphrases. MiB3, though, had the added bonus of a time travel plot, which is like crack for scifi nerds like me. In retrospect, I should have seen the obvious ploy, the trap Sonnenfeld was setting.
The largest issue looming over MiB3 is one of expectation. The most common flaw of expectation is one of let down: the film will never be what you and your friends have built it up to be. Sonnenfeld does the exact opposite; the movie is exactly what you built it up to be. It is everything you would expect from Sonnenfeld and his gang of aging, ragtag action misfits, and nothing more. Every reoccurring character does precisely what their past performances have dictated. Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men, Captain America) plays Agent K in the typical cryptic and stoic fashion, with the only primary difference being his major lack of screen time. Jones only appears in scenes of Agent K in modern time, at the very beginning and very end of the movie. The rest of Agent K’s screen time is set in 1969, with Josh Brolin as the “younger” K. I emphasize younger because Brolin is only twenty years younger than Jones, a ridiculously distracting and annoying detail despite Brolin’s stellar skills and spot-on Jones impression. Smith performance can be summed up by watching the two previous Men in Black movies: quick retorts, strong punches, and general badassery. Emma Thompson heads the agency, replacing Rip Torn’s Agent Zed with Agent O. Thompson is generally awesome in everything she does, but the most I can say for her performance here is “Yep, she sure was in that movie.”
The overall plot of the movie did little to help any of the characters or actors out of pigeon-holing themselves. With the hopes of saving Agent K, Agent J returns to the year 1969 to kill the man, Boris the Animal, who will ruin Agent K’s every chance of happiness and eventually lead to his ultimate demise. All in all, a very boring use of time travel. Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) takes on the role of Boris the Animal, and does it with a flourish of nastiness you would never expect him to be capable of. The character itself is typical of Sonnenfeld’s imagination: lots of spider-like characteristics mixed with brute strength and a repetitive catch-phrases. Clement, though, makes the character worth watching. He is unrecognizable as Boris, transformed to a cross between Ron Perlman and Micky Rourke. In other words, he is incomprehensively ugly, with a mouth you can’t take your eyes off of.
Perhaps it is not completely Sonnenfeld’s fault. It’s been 10 years since the last Men in Black movie. In those last 10 years, nerds across the country have been drunk on scifi splendor like Doctor Who, Lost (like it or not, it counts), and Stargate. We have seen everything our hearts could desire in regard to aliens, time travel and alternate universes, and we didn’t even have to leave the comfort of our homes. Sonnenfeld brought a knife to a sonic screwdriver fight, and had no chance of ending up victorious.