When Barry Sonnenfeld‘s Men in Black 3 was in production, much was made of behind the scenes problems. Reports circulated that it began filming without a full script, production stopped for months on end and scenes were written on the day. No matter to what degree those reports were true or false, the final product definitely feels like a film searching for its identity in those same ways. It wobbles out of the start gate, almost drops out of the race, then finds its footing and finishes strong.

Leaps and bounds better than Men in Black II and featuring many of the traits that mad the 1997 original a hit, Men in Black III is better than you’re expecting but not as good as you’d hoped.

As Men in Black 3 begins one of the worst bad guys in the galaxy, Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement), breaks out of prison and travels back in time to get revenge on the man who put him away. That’s K, played by Tommy Lee Jones. Boris succeeds, so Agent J (Will Smith) must go back in time to 1969 to right the wrongs and save the world from assured destruction by Boris and his race.

Once the film transitions from 2012 to 1969, everything clicks. Young K is played by Josh Brolin who isn’t only doing an impressive impression of Tommy Lee Jones, he adds his own youthful vibrancy to the film. Smith is his usual charismatic, ‘biggest movie star in the world’ self, and the two have really good chemistry. Almost as good as Jones and Smith.

As J and young K finally begin to bond, the film locks into an entertaining, rewarding story thanks to a character named Griffin, played by Boardwalk Empire‘s Michael Stuhlbarg. Griffin is the true star of the movie, a fifth-dimensional alien who sees every possibly outcome of every possible situation at all times, all the time. It’s through him that Men in Black 3 surprises and delights with some neat twists and turns. With the movie speeding to its surprisingly cool and emotional climax, you almost forget the first part.

But that first part still lingers. The first 20-25 minutes of Men in Black 3 are awkward, unfunny and almost painful. Jokes fall totally flat, action scenes are boring and without purpose, and it all seems like filler just so the movie wouldn’t be 60 minutes long.

This is partially because the film never takes time to reestablish the Men in Black universe, which we haven’t seen in ten years. We’re just dumped into it as if the 2nd film came out last year. Not that we need a full primer explaining neuralizers and noisy crickets; it’s just that Men in Black 3 feels like picking up a book and beginning with chapter 5.

The aliens in the film run the gamut from incredibly cool to extremely gross, but the majority are just set dressing to remind us we’re in this universe. Sonnenfeld’s action isn’t very flashy, but later in the film he begins to use the conventions of the story to make the scenes unique.

Men in Black 3 isn’t as good as the first film, but it’s better and smaller than the second. There are some very, very memorable scenes, lots of forgettable ones, and in the end nothing more than a passable, entertaining piece of summer entertainment.

/Film rating 6 out of 10

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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