It is one of the semi-great questions of our time: Do we really need a third “Men in Black” movie?
As Will Smith himself might say, “Aw, hell no!” Let’s revisit that question at the end of this review.
Conceptually, I’m a sucker for time travel. I’ve read books on the topic (my favorite being “How to Build a Time Machine” by physicist Paul Davies) and love time travel narratives. I’m also a sucker for New York Mets baseball and actor Michael Stuhlbarg. And “Men in Black 3″ contains all of these elements. So far, so good.
MiB3 starts out well enough, as we meet Boris the Animal, played by “Flight of the Conchords” actor/musician Jemaine Clement. Boris is one the MiB universe’s better creations — a despicable being with some sort of orifice in his hand, replete with teeth, where he stores a dart-shooting pet that seems to be half crab, half scorpion and completely disgusting. He might have two such hands if Tommy Lee Jones’ K hadn’t shot off his other arm 40 years ago when he apprehended Boris. The action really begins when bad guy Boris escapes from prison — on the moon — with the sole purpose of exacting revenge on K. That’s the good news.
The bad news? Will Smith’s first 10 minutes on screen. I have no idea if they shot MiB3 in sequence but Smith seems really uncomfortable at the beginning of the movie. Saturday Night Live’s Jay Pharoah might have done a better Will Smith in the opening moments than Will Smith does. Fortunately, that Big Willie Style charm we all love soon shows up, at which time we get to have some fun. And there is plenty of fun to be had.
Boris gets his hand on a time-traveling device that allows him to jump, quite literally, back to 1969, where he kills K. That murder triggers a chain of catastrophic events that ripple into the future. Once J realizes what has happened, he needs to jump back to 1969 and prevent K’s murder.
Fun as it all is, the heart of MiB3 is Josh Brolin’s performance as the young K. Brolin is so good at nailing Tommy Lee Jones’ voice and manner, you actually forget he’s not Tommy Lee Jones.
Then there’s Stuhlbarg (“Boardwalk Empire,” “A Serious Man”) as Griffin, a timid alien creature who simultaneously exists in the past, present and future (if Rain Man and Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen had a baby, it might be Griffin). Griffin serves as J and young K’s guardian, using a fantastic moment in baseball history to teach them a lesson.
There are some holes in this story and unfortunately, they’re not time-travel wormholes, but I can live with that. “Men in Black 3″ may not hold up to the most stringent scrutiny, but it is what it is — a real crowd pleaser with a big heart.
So: Do we really need a third Men in Black movie? No, we don’t, but I’m glad we have one.
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.