The future has caught up with this franchise, and has found it out of touch, out of ideas and out of time.
Time – that subtle thief of youth – is seldom kind, and film franchises are in no way immune to its cruel embrace. Cocky, hep and nimble, the first Men in Black was one of the freshest big-budget films of the late-'90s. 2002's sequel, however, exhibited the celluloid equivalent of a mid-life crisis – bloated, tired and re-hashing former glories. Even its choice of vehicle had a touch of the Saxondales about it.
Belatedly entering the third phase of life, the MiB franchise has withered considerably. The energy, composure and snappy '60s retro sheen of the original have given way to inertia, disorientation and production design that by now owes more to Austin Powers than Don Draper.
A lifeless, listless opening act in which galaxy defenders Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (the mighty Tommy Lee Jones) track down errant, intergalactic beastie Boris the Animal (Jemaine 'Conchord' Clement) sets the tone. Smith and Jones’ once effortless comic chemistry appears to have run out of steam some time ago, stranding their usual schtick – Big Willie’s all upbeat and dope ‘n’ shit; Tommy Lee’s a stone-faced grump – a little high and dry.
It all feels rather perfunctory, as if the film is kicking its heels before delving into a second movement that sends J back to 1969 in order to save the present – and K’s life – from the timesliding Boris. It’s here that director Sonnenfeld manages to gain his first real bit of traction, with the introduction of Josh Brolin as the young K and a peek into the comedic possibilities arising from a confident young black man transplanted into less enlightened times.
A visit to Andy Warhol’s Factory is also good for a bit of fun (clue: those arty flakes wuz all aliens. Yuk!), but a plot that dictates we leave the potential of New York behind for outsize period jetpacks, a prophetic alien naïf and punch up atop the nose-cone of an Apollo 11 counting down to launch means that normal service is swiftly – and rather dispiritingly – resumed.
Brolin is decent enough as the young K, but his casting is such a perfect fit that it doesn’t leave any cracks for him to expand his character. Emma Thompson, replacing Rip Torn as the head of the MiB Agency, is little more than a plot-point in a skirt-suit, and Jemaine Clement exists purely as a shouty menace smothered in unpersuasive prosthetics. None of them are at all well served by a script that is far more concerned with barreling down the expected channels than exploring anything innovative, interesting or groovy.
The sense of wonder in the cosmos as an infinitely odd and beautiful place populated by a rich panoply of diverse entities that was so lacking in the previous entry is similarly absent here. Despite being longer than the previous films, there is no room in MiB3 for marvels, no time for the relaxed character asides that hallmarked the original.
Like Indiana Jones’ Crystal Skull mis-step, MiB3 gives its audience what it thinks they want rather than dragging them into strange new dimensions. The future has caught up with this franchise, and has found it out of touch, out of ideas and out of time.
Just like Frisbee golf, processed cheese and earlobes, if this tardy sequel didn’t exist, then nobody would think to invent it.
If ITV had made Doctor Who then it would look something like this.
As Spinal Tap’s co-lead guitarist Nigel Tufnell once said, "It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black." Enough with the black.