Dir. by Barry Sonnenfeld - 1 hr. 46 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
When you reach the third film in what is probably going to end up being a trilogy, it makes sense that the third film will generally have to be about resolution of some kind. Otherwise, what you have feels unfinished (kind of like the Sam Raimi-helmed Spider-Man movies), and there's almost nothing worse in story-telling of any kind than an unsatisfying ending. "Men in Black III" manages an odd feat: it's a satisfying conclusion to the series (if this does, in fact, end up concluding the series), but not really a great movie. That's sort of a problem, considering the length of time between the second and third installments pretty much demands that III stand on it's own merits.
Once again, Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are Men in Black, agents who deal in matters extraterrestrial. The pressing issue this time is the escape of Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) from a lunar prison, with the intent of travelling back in time to avenge the loss of his arm and capture by K. This will pave the way for a global invasion of giant space critters who will come to Earth to devour it. K disappears, the timeline having been rewritten by Boris' actions, and J has to travel back to 1969 in order to make things come off as they should have.
In terms of what works here, one of the bigger things is Josh Brolin's portrayal of a younger K. Problematically, part of what makes it work is him working off of Tommy Lee Jones' work in the previous installments (Brolin has more screen-time here than does Jones), but his impression is a lot of fun. Jones really doesn't have a lot of moments to shine here - he spends most of his time dazed and in reverie, so that portrayal doesn't do much to help you if you haven't seen the dynamic between J and K previously. There's also the fun reveals of the aliens that are living among us, although it feels like much less so that in the previous movies. But the thing that drives the movie is J having to learn to take things a little more seriously than he has been. That lesson comes in many different forms, but the bottom line is that he has to at least partially deviate from the smart-ass character in order to show some gratitude. That's not exactly an easily-digestible message for a summer popcorn movie to offer up, but it's still the lesson that's there.
So what doesn't work? As I mentioned before, a lot of how much you enjoy Brolin's version of K depends on your familiarity with a pair of films that are ten and fifteen years old, respectively. Also, Smith's "you're so old" jokes fall flat coming from the mouth of a 43-year old. While it may be in line with what the character has previously been, it's sort of comedically tone-deaf at this point. If Jones' version of K wasn't so consistently distracted in the story, there would have been an opportunity for him to start to fight back a bit on that issue. Also, while we've already seen a lot of the gadgets before, this film exists in a limbo where it's not clear if the gap between films means that they need re-explaining, or if they should just assume familiarity at this point.
All in all, there's funny stuff here, but for a good bit of the film, it's best described as dealing with weighty issues in an inconsequential, glib manner. When the flip switches in the third act, and weighty matters are dealt with in a little less glib manner, it's an uncomfortable fork in the road in what, to this point, has been a series of glib and shiny movies. The thing that redeems this under-achieving film is also the thing that is uncharacteristic compared to the previous two and three-quarters films. I can't really say that it's a mistake, but it does result in an uneven film. Viewed on the whole, it's a satisfying end to the trilogy, but it's also not in line with everything leading up to it.
2.5 / 5 - Theatre (3D)