15 years after the original “Men in Black” hit theaters, the much-anticipated third installment has arrived. As a fan of the first (particularly its eclectic blend of sci-fi and comedy) I figured it was worth a look…despite the stigma associated with third franchise installments.
The film opens with Boris the Animal, an alien convict with a propensity for shooting deadly spikes out of his hands, escaping from a lunar prison facility. Meanwhile, all is not well on Earth: tensions are stirring between Agent J (Will Smith, in his element) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Boris promptly proceeds to acquire a time-travel device, which he uses to leap back to 1969 and kill Agent K (erasing him from the present, and paving the way for an alien invasion). A crucial event – K’s original capture of Boris – is thus undone.
It may sound convoluted, but it works. The MiB franchise is not known for serious scientific underpinnings, which ends up being one of its greatest strengths.
For the third installment in an aging series, “MiB 3” is surprisingly slick. Will Smith, as expected, is fantastic – and Josh Brolin (as the 1969 version of Agent K) perfectly evokes a younger Tommy Lee Jones. The series’ offbeat humor and wildly imagined aliens are still immensely entertaining – and what’s more, “MiB 3” has a surprising amount of heart. A surprisingly emotional climax elevates the movie above many of its competitors, and neatly caps off the trilogy. Combining these elements results in a strongly satisfying film, and one that’s well worth the price of admission.
Given the film’s $215 million budget, I did expect a bit more whiz-bang action (I’m not quite sure where all that money went – the LOTR films were shot for $90 million apiece) but what’s onscreen is still good. This is a movie about characters and their relationships, not high-dollar special effects…and if all that cash was needed to secure the best lineup possible, it was money well spent.
I doubt the filmmakers intended to include heavy worldview elements (this is, first and foremost, a summer blockbuster), but one particular element warrants a bit of discussion. In the 1969 segments, J and K encounter Griff, a “fifth-dimensional being” who perceives all possible future timelines simultaneously. This is an interesting illustration of the “middle knowledge” concept – a way of understanding the relationship between free will and omniscience. Middle knowledge – full awareness of all possible outcomes resulting from a given choice – accounts for a sovereign God’s ability to know the future, while simultaneously leaving humans free to make their own choices.
The vast, incomprehensible burden of this power is occasionally referenced in the film – Griff sees his ability as a curse. In an interesting parallel, “MiB 3” does for omniscience what “Watchmen” did for omnipotence: it portrays a mortal gifted with an imperfect fragment of divinity, who suffers on account of it. In “MiB 3” this takes the form of Griff’s ability to perceive the future (though he is, generally, a slave to the choices of others). In “Watchmen” this appears as Dr. Manhattan’s blindness regarding the future and the extent of human corruption. Whether intended or not, it makes for a fascinating discussion point.
Objectionable content is, happily, limited: Boris the Animal kills his victims with nasty-looking spikes, and there’s a lot of splattering alien goo (along with a smattering of profanity) but it’s almost within PG territory.
“MiB 3” has no pretensions of artsiness. It doesn’t redefine the sci-fi genre or have anything provocative to say about humanity. But as post-“Avengers” entertainment, you could do much worse (I’m looking at you, “Battleship”). Fans of sci-fi comedy (or Will Smith, for that matter) shouldn’t miss this one.
A well-executed popcorn flick that recaptures the original film’s charm.
Normalized Score: 6.9