Men in Black 3 (2012)    2 Stars

“Back in time to save the future”

Men in Black 3 (2012)
Men in Black 3 (2012)


Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin

Synopsis: Agent J travels in time to M.I.B.’s early days in 1969 to stop an alien from assassinating his friend Agent K and changing history.




Will there ever be a time-travel movie which doesn’t trip itself up with some inconsistency that renders its very existence irrelevant?   Probably not, but then we tend to cut this sub-genre a lot more slack than others.   If the actions of a character in a crime thriller defied logic and reason within its self-contained world we would immediately write the movie off as a dud but, thanks to the complexities and paradoxes inherent in any time-travel story, when a character survives doing something that should result in the extinguishing of his existence we don’t even notice, because figuring out the logical temporal impact of any action in a time-travel movie is simply too taxing for most of us.  It’s best not to think about it.   Just sit back and let the cinematic inconsistencies wash over you.   They make no sense, but they’re fun to watch.

There was a period of ten years between the second and third instalments of the MIB franchise.   Men in Black 3 also marked the return to the screen of Will Smith (Hitch, After Earth) following a four year sabbatical, and it’s difficult to believe the two facts are coincidence.   After all, even a superstar of Will Smith’s stature needs a quick and painless re-entry into the public consciousness.   So, what better way than in the persona of one of his most likeable characters from one of his biggest hits?   Tommy Lee Jones (The Family, Lincoln) steps into the shoes of the irascible Agent K once again, despite the evidence of his advancing years in every lump and crevice on his face.  His blunt manner provides an amusing counter to Smith’s buoyancy, and yet there’s never any doubting the mutual but tacit affection that exists between the two characters.

The discreetly concealed warmth they share explains the lengths to which Smith’s Agent J is prepared to go in order to save his partner’s life in Men in Black 3.   The film opens on a maximum security prison on the moon from which Boglodite felon Boris the Animal (Jermaine Clement – Despicable Me) is about to escape.   Forty years ago, Agent K shot off Boris’s arm and had that purpose-built prison constructed on the moon to hold him and other highly dangerous prisoners, and now that he’s free, Boris wants revenge.   Using one of only two time-jump devices invented by a fellow inmate, Boris travels back to 1969 to kill K.   When he succeeds in his mission, time is altered, and although J is still an MIB agent, he finds that he has a new partner, and that K is now just a distant memory in the minds of the agency’s older personnel.   Quite why J remembers K when Boris’s diddling has resulted in a new timeline in which Agent K died before J was even born is never really satisfactorily explained but, like I said – just let it wash over you…

The only way that J can return things to normal is by using the second time-jump device to follow Boris back to 1969 and prevent him from killing K.   And it’s a jump in every sense of the word, requiring J to leap from the top of the Chrysler Building and activate the device when he is just two feet from the ground.   Once back in 1969, J plans to eliminate Boris without alerting the younger K to his presence, but his plans are scuppered when he fails in his first assassination attempt and finds himself detained by none other than the man he has travelled back in time to save.

The 1969 version of K is played by Josh Brolin (Gangster Squad, Oldboy) who, it has to be said, pretty much nails Jones’s distinctive accent and mannerisms; this young K isn’t yet the curmudgeonly old boot with whom we’re familiar, and even has time for a little flirting with the young secretary who will one day grow up to be Emma Thompson (Saving Mr Banks, The Legend of Barney Thomson), and replaces Rip Torn as the head of the Agency.   K’s youthful attitude also paves the way for some livelier interplay than we’ve seen in the past from the two agents, and poses the tantalising question of just what it was that turned the ageing K into such an imposingly dour figure.   To be honest, the answer proves to be more than a little contrived, and demonstrates just how Etan Cohen’s screenplay disregards both temporal logic and events from the previous two Men in Black movies.   But, to be fair, Men in Black 3 is played strictly for laughs, and the time-travel angle is simply a handy means of creating yet another race against time to save the planet from destruction.   It would be nice if they could come up with a new peril for J and K to face, but at least the interweaving of the story with real events from the past, the frantic pace and top-line effects divert our attention from the familiarities of the plot.

(Reviewed 10th February 2016)

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