Men in Black is not my favorite franchise–I get a little tired being grossed out by all the random aliens with their weird tentacles and long tongues and whatever else. But this installment was pretty imaginative and an overall good time. There was some unexpected imagery during the actual time travel scenes, and a hilarious explanation for Andy Warhol and his eccentricities. Will Smith is himself as always, playing the same guy that you always see–but really that’s what you want, isn’t it? If I ever go to a Will Smith movie where he isn’t making wisecracks and at some point threatening to put the hurt on some annoying character and making it look as easy as popping bubblegum, than for sure I will be disappointed.
Tommy Lee Jones on the other hand is definitely showing the signs of age. I can’t remember the last thing I’ve seen him in, but it’s clear that some years have passed since Men in Black 2. This isn’t much of a problem, though, since for most of the film K is played as a younger man by Josh Brolin, who you’ve probably already heard by now is excellent. He’s got the feel of the character down pat, and also handles the action scenes well. I could completely imagine some convolution to bring the younger version of K into the present to permanently partner with J and thus keep the franchise going. Of course, it wouldn’t have made any sense but really all you’d need is to consult with Steven Moffat for 10 minutes and you’d probably be able to come up with some solution to satisfy the audience. And it probably wouldn’t have made any less sense than what actually happens.
And this is where a pretty entertaining film lets me down: in the final payoffs. There’s a lot of questions that are well set up in the movie: why K is such a cold fish, why J remembers K when nobody else does. But these things aren’t dealt with effectively at the end. K interacting with young James at the end has real emotional resonance, but its marred because you’re not sure what role this is playing in the larger narrative. Is this what always happened? Has J’s involvement helped to bring this about? Is this why K is the way he is? Has J changed history or not?
It seems like he must have but then why doesn’t K comment on their interaction in the past in the movie’s final scenes? I know many will feel like these aren’t the sort of things that you are supposed to worry about in a Men in Black movie but I don’t buy it because a) the script goes out of its way to lead me ask these questions, developing an expectation that a moment is coming where I will understand and b) even light-hearted goofy sci-fi is still better if it holds up under at least a little scrutiny. For example it was cool to see J use the time jumper to outwit his enemy during the climax, but it became less cool when I remember that previously the device didn’t work that way (allowing the user to go back into his past self and change his choices), and also when I realized that even if it did, it should have allowed the bad guy to do the same thing, since he also “jumped”. The feel you get in the end is that something got lost in some rewrites, or alternately that some of various timelines being seen by the interesting and unusual character Griffin are being smooshed together randomly into one film.
Maybe I’d find some answers if I watched the movie again. It was fun enough that I just might enjoy doing that, but probably not anytime really soon.