It’s been a long time since the first Men in Black hit theatre screens in 1997. Most noticeably is how Will Smith has become an A-List Super Star. Back 15 years ago when Smith appeared in Barry Sonnenfeld’s film about a secret agency that polices alien affairs on Earth, he got second billing after actor Tommy Lee Jones. No argument there. By 1997, Smith had Independence Day, Six Degrees of Separation and Bad Boys under his belt. But he was far more renowned for his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air television persona and his rap songs that climbed the charts in the mid-90’s.
Oh, the difference 15 years makes. Since Men in Black, Will Smith has appeared in 15 films with all but The Legend of Bagger Vance having topped $100 million at the box office. His name attached to a project all but assures a big opening and he has therefore become one of the most sought after actors working in Hollywood today.
So it makes sense that Sony/Columbia wanted to revive the Men in Black franchise that seemed to lose fan and critical interest after Men in Black II scored only a 39% approval rating (source: rottentomatoes.com) back in 2002. A $1 billion dollar worldwide haul for the first two films probably had something to do with their motivation as well.
So with a script yet completed, Men in Black III began shooting in New York in 2011 reuniting Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as Agent J and K respectively in an Etan Cohen scripted event that has Agent J travelling back to 1969 in an attempt to thwart the plans of another time travelling alien that looks to eradicate Agent K from history.
Standing in for the younger Agent K is Academy Award nominee Josh Brolin and the majority of the film focuses on Agent J and the younger K as they try to get a step ahead of the conniving alien Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) who looks to get revenge on Agent K who blew off his arm and incarcerated him in a moon-based prison.
Barry Sonnenfeld is back behind the camera for the book-end of the trilogy and he does enough to help rinse the bad taste of Men in Black II out of our mouths and ends up giving audiences the perfect whimsical summer movie that is mindless and fun yet shows heart above the two predecessors.
Much of the credit for the film’s success can be attributed to the performances of Will Smith and Josh Brolin. Both seem to be having a lot of fun in their respective roles and their playfulness abounds to the audience.
Also making itself noticed in the threequel is Rick Baker’s make-up effects. The aliens in Men in Black III are all incredibly interesting and the villain – Boris the Animal – is one of the more interesting badass aliens to be put on screen in many a feature.
MiB III gets plenty deep for a family comedy. Racism as it was in 1960’s America is on display and a small little twist in the conclusion chapters was an intelligent and emotional way to close the circle.
Men in Black III is not going to win awards, nor is it going to be remembered as one of the year’s best once the tallies are all recorded. But it is what most summer movies fail to be. It’s a sweet and comfortable shoe that gives its audience exactly what it is looking for – a simple escape.