If Men in Black II had been as successful as Men in Black 3, we probably wouldn’t have had to wait 10 years between chapters.
While not as good as the original film, Barry Sonnenfeld’s return to the world of the besuited alien wrangers is definitely a step-up from the flaccid mediocrity of the first sequel. There aren’t any attempts to shoe-horn in characters from the first two movies that don’t work with the plot, for one thing. While the new characters are not as memorable as Vincent D’Onofrio’s bug or Linda Fiorentino’s medical examiner, Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords is just fine (and largely unrecognizable) as the installment’s villain, Boris “The Animal.” While initially not seeming to be very unique, it turns out there’s a lot more to the character and he ends up being a bizarre new addition to the annals of weird-ass extraterrestrials. He’s one of Rick Baker’s better creations of recent memory. For whatever reason, Rip Torn does not return for this particular installment, and the film is the poorer for it. But while Emma Thompson is an acceptable, though certainly not exciting, replacement as the head of the MIB agency, her past self in the form of Alice Eve gets more of an opportunity to be lovely and charming, giving young Agent Kay every reason to be enamored with her.
As you probably realized from that, this particular segment of the series takes place largely in 1969 and it is during this part of the film that it truly shines. In the present, Tommy Lee Jones is so dour that it almost seems like he’s lapsed into self-parody. Frankly, it’s to the point that it’s just sad. He looks about ready to disintegrate as he continues to take on the appearance of an English bulldog, but fortunately Josh Brolin doesn’t just take over as Young Kay, but he thoroughly improves on the character, taking him back to the sharp wittiness of the original character. (It doesn’t hurt that he puts out an incredible impression of Jones in his prime.) While Will Smith’s Will Smithiness continues to get more and more tired, he is smart enough to get out of the way in a lot of cases and let Brolin shine. On the alien front, there’s a fun new addition with an original twist: Griffin, a being that can see into all possible futures. Even better, Bill Hader turns in a performance as Andy Warhol that utterly steals the film despite only appearing for about ten minutes.
The 60’s flavor extends to the visuals and the music, leading to a refreshing change. The great nods to the era, with little in jokes like the aliens looking far more retro-era than those of the previous films, make up for minor story issues and help keep the film light and entertaining. The insertion of a few well-chosen psychedelic cues to the highly Elfman-y Danny Elfman score help cement the overall feel of the film as well. In the end it adds to the charm that keeps the film afloat for it’s running time. In the end, it’s a cotton candy film. It’s light, but tasty and full of empty calories. Sometimes that’s all you want though.
One suggestion: If it’s decided to make another entry into the franchise, think about making it a period piece with Brolin, Hollywood.
(Three out of five stars)