For all of his likeability, superstar Will Smith is a frustrating actor as a critic. Not only does he have the natural charisma of a Tom Hanks, but also the intensity of a Tom Cruise, and yet unlike those two, he has yet to appear in a truly amazing film. Throughout his career in films as adequate as The Pursuit of Happyness, I am Legend, and Ali Smith has shown the capacity for greatness that so many artists lack, but over and over again, it seems that he looks at what will sell instead of what will stretch him as an actor. Missing from movie theaters for four years now, Smith returns with the good, but once again forgettable Men in Black III, which while the best in the franchise is still nothing more than a passable time at the cinemas and a decent option for entertainment on a hot summer day. Smith, like the film itself, takes no chances, offers the familiar and is generally entertaining.
In a film with stars like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones it is interesting to note that for once the storyline of this genre effort is perhaps its most intriguing element. For fans of shows like Fringe and Lost, which dabbled in the possibility of alternate universes and timelines, the idea of someone traveling to the past and creating an alternate reality through that time travel will be a familiar, but welcome sight. Indeed, the film never really comes to life until Will Smith’s character is forced to go the late 1960’s in an attempt to save his Agent K’s (Tommy Lee Jones) life in pursuit of a rogue named Boris the Animal, hoping to change his fortunes by ridding the world of his captor before he has a chance to ever ensnare him. Until then, there had been the typical sight gags and one liners that had come to define the series to date, but after the time travel has occurred, the filmmakers finally have fresh material to work with and elements that give this on-the-surface unnecessary sequel a reason to exist beyond padding the filmmaker’s wallets.
Indeed after the story has progressed from the day to day shenanigans of 70-year-old Agent K and mid-40’s Agent J (Smith and Jones, who despite some lame humor still deliver with terrific chemistry), the audience is allowed to move on from a pairing that has been played out to the best two characters in the entire trilogy. As a pre-1970’s Agent K Josh Brolin shines, delivering a performance nearly as brilliant as his take on George W. Bush. His every mannerism is a perfect match of Tommy Lee Jones, his voice a spot on incarnation. Everything, from his walk to his delivery is an incredible imitation and delivered with immaculate comedic timing to boot. Nearly as impressive as Brolin is Michael Stuhlbarg, breakout star of 2010’s A Serious Man, as an alien who can see every possible past and future simultaneously. His is a work of frantic activity, one that in lesser hands might have sunk the film entirely, but in his becomes something far more than just a rote plot device, bursting through with a performance that is both memorable and thrilling to watch, calling to mind a young Robin Williams in terms of his manic and endless energy. Just as fun as these two is the film’s central villain, Boris the Animal, given a unique look by makeup genius Rick Baker and life by actor Jemaine Clement.
While the 60’s atmosphere allows for some terrific comedic material, perhaps the best part of the film is its ending, which while maybe a little too convenient is a touching denouement for this universe and its characters. However well it succeeds in delivering a nice moment, however, it must be asked if this particular series had earned such an ending. As it is, the finale, like the film and series itself is good. If there had been just a little bit more attention to the characters throughout, however, the ending could have become something far greater than good: iconic.
While some characters and special effects are admirable there are others that are simply tired. The invasion sequence, for instance, is particularly lazy, as is the script itself, riddled with plot holes and one-liners that were never going to work. It is still fun, especially when the film allows its audience to take in its 1960’s environs, but there are simply too many jokes that fall flat or action sequences that do nothing adventurous to call this a great film. A decent sequel certainly and one worth the price of admission for any fan of the series, but with the talent on board, one can only dream about what might have been if all involved had seen the finished product and like the characters in the film, been given a chance to change it from a favorable outcome to an amazing conclusion.