Review: “Men in Black 3”

An improvement on the second film but not as fun or fresh as the first, the third “Men in Black” shows little sign of its troubled production – or even its age. Even though it has been 15 years since the first and 10 years since the second, director Barry Sonnenfeld and the behind-the-scenes team are so consistent in their approach, tone, design and production that it feels like MIB3 could well have been shot immediately after the last one.

Seemingly quaint in its modest ‘please like me’ approach, this instalment of ‘Men’ will only truly appeal to the faithful with its lack of trying to be anything other than what it is. There’s no desperate need to prove itself, the film sticks to what it knows – allowing for a familiar and breezy entry that, though feeling forced and already quite dated, makes for a pleasant if bland diversion.

Will Smith does his usual routine of being a good host, Tommy Lee Jones pops up (albeit briefly) only to collect his check, while Emma Thompson and Bill Hader have small and unremarkable roles. It’s the other supporting players who’re the most memorable – Josh Brolin doing a superbly realised impersonation of Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg as the sweet and overly perceptive alien Griffin, and Jemaine Clement hamming it up as the delightfully icky villain Boris the Animal.

There’s actually a bit of heart to this one with a nice emotional element that adds heft to the already fairly good third act set piece, but to get it the film trades in its laughs. Some jokes do fall entirely flat, but the level of humour is so barely above the ground anyway that the duds have no real impact and could easily be mistaken for just straight forward dialogue. The few that do hit however only produce a mild smile.

The emphasis in this entry is more on the sci-fi and action than the comedy beyond the obligatory jokes about celebrities being aliens. Full kudos to Rick Baker and his alien creature design which is often superbly realised. It’s a serviceable entry, designed to not really to strain itself. The 1969 scenes are distinctly better than the present day elements which feel obligatory.

Those looking for faults will find them in spades from some galaxy-sized holes in the screenplay to the lack of energy or creativeness. Yet because the film is amiable, solidly paced, and trying desperately to be liked rather than demanding you comply and beat your sensory perception to death, it’s hard not to be sucked in (even if only a little) by its charms.