Men in Black 3: The Bummer of '69

The franchise goes back in time, but you still get to pay the 2012 price

<i>Men in Black 3</i>: The Bummer of '69

Can any one of the millions of Americans who saw Men in Black 2 in 2002 describe its plot today? A single scene? I saw both MIB movies upon their original release and have as little memory of the experience as if I'd been mind-wiped with one of those "neuralyzing" flash sticks that Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones use to give amnesia to witnesses of supernormal incidents.

The modern science of the franchise depends, though, on the public having a short memory, waiting for the moment when '02's "I paid $7 for that?" fades to indifference and then receptivity, if not nostalgia. Hence Men in Black 3, which reunites the series stars with director Barry Sonnenfeld, who, beginning with 1991's The Addams Family, made his fortune on special-effects comedies that could be synopsized and cross-promoted on the side of a 44-ounce fountain drink.

If you opt to rent the 3-D glasses, Men in Black 3 will be $14; the product has not, otherwise, changed significantly. Ten years later, Agent J (Smith) and Agent K (Jones) have retained their affable younger black guy/tight-assed older white guy repartee. While J is nagging the emotionally constipated K to be more forthcoming about his past, Boris "The Animal" (Jemaine Clement), an intergalactic hellion that K collared and crippled in 1969, is busy busting out of lunar prison. Boris is seeking not only revenge on K, but also a complete do-over of the intervening 40 years, during which his entire belligerent race was driven to extinction. Boris plans to effect this massive mulligan by traveling back in time to assassinate a young K. To prevent this, J has to travel to '69 himself, where he partners with a young K (Josh Brolin, not young enough, but doing a fair TLJ impersonation) and hustles against time to hunt down Boris.


Men in Black 3
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Columbia Pictures Opens May 25

Is this the '80s or 2012? It's all quite Back to the Future, down to the involvement of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and a soundtrack theme song titled "Back in Time," with Miami rapper Pitbull replacing Huey Lewis and the News. The time-travel gimmick has at least the potential to be something more than a Hail Mary to save a tired property here, though, as there has always been a touch of retro-futurism about the MIB movies: Jones's starchy, old-school Joe Friday–like formality, the overtones of "Great Society" bureaucracy in the MIB Agency, even the first film's climax at the '64 World's Fair Unisphere, with all of its dated Tomorrowland implications. Practically none of that comes to play in the third MIB. The new-old '60s gadgetry—gyroscopic motorcycles, the jet packs we were promised, primitive models of familiar MIB gear—is rendered in the familiar circa-1997 surgical-stainless-steel design template. As for the time-travel culture shock, you get a few hippies with speaking roles and no significant engagement with the zeitgeist of the era. "It wasn't the best time for your people," J is warned as a black man traveling into the vicinity of the MLK assassination, but aside from a light-comic profiling scene, Martin Lawrence's Black Knight had about as much to say on race relations as MIB3 does.

In addition to saddling Boris with the limpest villain catchphrase in recorded history ("Let's agree to disagree"), the script by Etan Cohen and the inevitable small army of paid-by-the-one-liner punch-up men revisits the time-tested franchise gag in which public eccentrics (i.e., Dennis Rodman) are revealed to be hidden-in-plain-sight aliens. Here, it's Andy Warhol (Bill Hader) who's secretly an MIB agent; while in character, Hader's Warhol says things that Warhol would never conceivably say ("Now's not a good time. . . . This is a be-in.") and functions as a condescending stand-in for "freaky" '60s counterculture as a whole, dismissed with a smug emperor-has-no-clothes twist.

Despite such ubiquitous timidity, one can pluck out a few pleasing distractions here. Special-effects man Rick Baker, whose workshop was responsible for the previous MIB creatures, puts together a colorful bestiary in a Chinese-restaurant shoot-out, which also provides an opportunity for some good green-screen slapstick. The great Michael Stuhlbarg has a part as an extraterrestrial visitor who has the gift and curse of being, at any given moment, able to calculate the probability of every possible outcome of a situation, in every single butterfly-effect chain of events, leaving him a knot of elation and hypochondriac paranoia. Can even he conceive of a marketplace where the bland formula of MIB3 won't be rewarded? It's a long shot.

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Was one of criticisms really that there was no engagement with the Zeitgeist of the era [referring to the absence of hippie portrayal in the 1960's]? Come on, this a comedic sci-flick, not a documentary on the cultural dynamics of an era. Let's not get too serious here.


Another article said Will Smith thought about running for the Presidency, but Jada did not like that.


Did not like this movie at all, wasted my money. Will Smith is overrated.


Some things run-of-the-mill reviewers shouldn't see like SiFi. It just confuses them. Critics have a hard time suspending their disbelief. It hurts their job if they do.

Haven't seen it yet but I am disappointed in the trend of these movies. (The cartoon series after the first one had many good stories and a great villain. All ignored.) First the twins disappear, now Frank the Pub? Not good. Maybe someone else should make any more MIB movies.

The first MIB concerned a dangerous alien "bug" who wanted to start an intergalactic war with Terra being the first casualty. MIB II concerned 'the Light of Zartha' and how it was too dangerous to be left on earth because another odious alien species wanted it and would destroy any planet to get it. Also at a certain point in time TLof Z must return to their world or it self destructs destroying the earth. So it concerns the past and K's and his violation of MIB orders as Terra is to be neutral and he voided that. (But he isn't fired.) The Kylothian looks like one of Lovecraft's monsters, Yog-Sothoth (body of twisting ropes pushed together.)


i wish i had been neuralyzed after seen this movie! plot too elaborated and little action, unnecessary chatting, and what happened to k after the gun? would they dare a 4 part? i dont think will do

Nani Solis
Nani Solis

i remember everything about MIB 2, and i cant wait till MIB 3 hits the theaters, although MIB 2 may not be the best it was still entertaining


I loved MiB. They couldn't leave it alone (greed) so they made MiB2 which is the worst POS and gets this close to undermining the charm of the first movie. I have seen nothing in the trailers that makes me want to see this. A mutant carp as a bad guy? OK, Emma Thompson and Josh Brolin are probably worth their scenes but that's not enough to justify the cost of admission let alone the extra for 3D.


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