Framing a film’s plot around time travel is a tricky endeavor. Without sound logic established within the film’s world, inconsistencies have been known to infiltrate a great sci-fi concept. If plot holes aren’t tackled, the film’s level of enjoyment dramatically decreases. It was time travel based narrative fallacies that delayed Men in Black III’s production schedule and caused much turmoil on the set. Admittedly, I like the fact that the franchise dared to take a chance on a premise that could destroy it. In some ways it’s an indirect joke pointed at the franchise’s long layoff (nearly a decade) because I’m pretty certain this franchise wasn’t demanded by the film going public. Nonetheless, Men in Black III finds our secret, intergalactic crime stoppers Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (an overwrought Tommy Lee Jones) facing a clear schism in their partnership. K, who seems like he’s on the brink of retirement, is sleepwalking through his job and life, much to the chagrin of J. Unfortunately, undermining J’s efforts is an alien convict known as Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement).
Wanting to avenge his incarceration by the hands of K, Boris travels back in time to kill the man who took forty years of his freedom. Boris achieves redemption by killing K back in 1969, thus ripping K’s life force from the current timeline. Well, K’s dead to everyone but J, thus prompting him to travel back in time to save his longtime partner. Going back a few days before Boris kills K in the past, J forges a new relationship with the 29-year-old iteration of K (Josh Brolin). Together they work to reestablish the original timeline and save K’s future. Whether it’s due to old age or just to inject new life into an aging franchise, Tommy Lee Jones’ is mostly absent from the proceedings. Josh Brolin, who does an unbelievable job mimicking Jones’ facial and vocal cues, provides the perfect straight man to Will Smith’s incredulous J instead. The plot leading us to Brolin’s genius performance works despite its simplistic approach to defining how time travel works in this particular universe. Helping push the film’s minimal time warp sensibilities is Michael Stuhlbarg as a gleeful alien with predictive powers. Even though his character is merely a device, Stuhlbarg provides the film with some of its best moments.
What’s curious about Men in Black III is that it seemingly doesn’t care to concoct a formidable villain. Visually speaking, Boris the Animal is a fine creation, but his lack of gravitas makes him feel like a footnote, or worse yet, a villain that would be typically disposed of in a film’s opener. Considering Boris’ lack of presence, Jemaine Clemente is practically wasted as he’s resigned to dialogue and actions that don’t come close to capitalizing on his talents. It should come as no surprise that the film hinges more on a race to save Agent K’s life than it does on saving the world. In some respects, saving the world seems like a bonus more than a driving force. The life of Agent K is the crux, and it delivers enough emotional gains to cover up the antagonistic short comings. Much like the franchises’ previous installments, humor and sight gags are huge assets. Smith alone provides enough charisma to make the film passable, but when he’s riffing off Brolin or the various extraterrestrial happenings, Men in Black III is a fine form of film escapism.
Surely, Men in Black III pales in comparison to the original film, but it boasts the same colorful backdrop that finds humans interacting with aliens wrapped up in human veils. With a plot impressively pandering to our emotions, Men in Black III defies the challenges set before it. I won’t argue that the time travel aspect of the plot is fully realized, but it doesn’t crumble under its own weight. Most importantly, it helps a long-standing franchise develop a new wrinkle. Don’t get me wrong, the lack of a villain certainly hurts the film’s potency, especially in an ending set piece that underwhelms, but a game cast and nostalgia give the franchise some level of relevance a decade after its pop culture peak. Talk about a time warp.