After some long and lengthy soul searching, I have come to the conclusion that Men in Black III (in 3-D) is better than Men in Black II… in so much as being tooth gratingly annoying and thoroughly incomprehensible is better than outright incompetence. Yet another lazy sequel to the charming 1997 original, director Barry Sonnenfeld re-teams with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as the famed galaxy defenders for more limited returns, but this time within the realm of quite possibly one of the worst time travel scenarios to not go straight to home video.
Agent K (Jones) and Agent J (Smith) are at a bit of an impasse in their professional partnership when K refuses to tell J the truth about escaped alien serial killer Boris the Animal (Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement), who wants K dead so his previously extinct race of universe destroying beings can destroy the world. In order to achieve his goal, Boris has to go back in time and…
Well, to tell you the truth, I honestly don’t know what the hell happens because none of it makes a lick of sense. Apparently Boris successfully goes back and kills K causing him to disappear from the present, but leading to an alternate reality where J is the only agent who remembers K’s existence in the present, but he really died in 1969. So, to stop K from dying in the past, J procures the only other time traveling device in the universe to try and kill Boris before K ever crosses paths with him. J fails in his mission and is introduced to young K (Josh Brolin) and teams up with him to track down Boris before he can come into contact with the motormouthed entity Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), who can simultaneously see all of the universes infinite timelines at once and also holds an amulet of some sort that can protect the universe. I can go into further spoilers, but you would probably just get more and more confused once I start adding more specifics.
Every detail outside of the cinematography and production design – both of which are top notch – is as arbitrary as possible. Even the stunning creature design is arbitrary since none of them exist except for the express purpose of getting blown away by the MiBs and turned into a steaming pile of goo. There’s zero tension with anything that transpires on screen because the staff of four writers never bother to develop any sort of characters or coherent story, simply coasting by content that the wacky idea of time travel will whisk away all of the film’s gaping logical and emotional holes.
Here’s the problem with time travel as a plot device: You can be lazy and use the theoretical paradoxes of time travel to explain away the logical problems, but it can’t cover up a complete lack of character motivation and lazy plot structuring. The problems in the present timeline of MiB III are barely addressed by the end and an entire subplot involving new bureau director O (a woefully slumming Emma Thompson) provides the biggest logical fallacy of the film. Well, that and the laughably inappropriate, illogical, and cloyingly “heartwarming” conclusion that nearly caused me to break my 3-D glasses over my knee and walk out.
Well, maybe it’s not exactly a logical fallacy because every character in the film constantly lies to every other character on screen. Possibly. I don’t even know. Maybe I need to go back to school and get my Ph.D. just to figure this thing out. They keep misinforming each other because this is the kind of movie where if just a single character told the truth, there wouldn’t be a movie. Then again, they could have just left it at everyone lying to one another since they wouldn’t have even needed the time travel device in the first place.
Since its flat out impossible to talk about the film’s structure any further without spoiling it (which you shouldn’t see, clearly, but I don’t want to ruin it for you if you’re dead set on going), let’s move onto the other biggest problems with the film, which are the performances almost across the board. Jones can’t be bothered to really care about what’s going on and Smith is only given recycled catch phrases for dialog leading to a complete lack of chemistry between the two of them that makes it look like they never worked together before in. Smith’s natural charisma can’t save this material. Despite a three year absence from the silver screen, even he seems tired here.
Clement is completely wasted in a villainous role that gives him nothing to do except act as a vessel for Rick Baker’s make-up effects. Finally there’s Stuhlbarg, who’s flat out doing the most hamfisted Robin Williams impression ever. Decked out in a woollen hat and winter jacket the entire time, his character proves to be entirely useless and thoroughly annoying to watch because he could at any time end the movie JUST BY FLAT OUT TELLING EVERYONE WHAT TO DO BECAUSE HE KNOWS EVERYTHING THAT WILL EVER HAPPEN AT ANY TIME IN THE UNIVERSE. But no, we just get a weak riff on Mork from Ork because that seems to be the era that Sonnenfeld’s mind seems to be stuck in.
I guess another plus for the film would be Brolin’s spot on impression of Jones, but again, the film doesn’t give him anything even remotely amusing to do with it. Even the gorgeous redesign of the late 1960s goes nowhere because the plot simply cobbles together the first moon mission, the Miracle Mets, jokes about segregation, and the rise of Andy Warhol into an incoherent mishmash of outdated references that were probably stale early in the 70s.
Men in Black III has absolutely no reason to exist, nor should it. Someone should go back in time and either fix this movie from being more complicated than it needed to be or prevent it from ever being made. Or better yet, go back even further and stop the second film from being made. Unless we’re in the alternate timeline where the second film was a good one and the first film was a bad one. Then maybe the Red Sox would’ve never won the World Series and Tommy Lee Jones would have never owed someone a favour or needed to pay someone a large sum of money. But if that happened, then my first cat wouldn’t have run away and my mother would have tipped that waiter at Benihana more than three dollars back in 1982, and then I wouldn’t have been bo………