It seems inconceivable now, but when Lethal Weapon 4 opened in 1998, it had only been 11 years since the first installment. And back then, it really did seem like both Danny Glover and Mel Gibson were getting too old for that ish.
Well, it’s been nearly as long as the gap between LW1 and LW4 to follow up Men in Black II with Men in Black 3. And the franchise apparently feels old enough to warrant a retro maneuver, sending Will Smith’s coasting Agent J back in time to prevent a rupture in the space-time continuum that would allow for poison-dart spitting alien criminal Boris the Animal to kill Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K before he can deploy the invasion-preventing ArcNet surrounding Earth.
Less complicated than merely far-fetched, the plot at times resembles the ramblings of a nursing home rec room’s denizens attempting to describe the events of Back to the Future to a newcomer.
(Speaking of time gaps that make one feel old: The distance between when MIB3 takes place and the era Agent J leaps back to — 1969 — is more than a decade vaster than the leap Michael J. Fox made back in 1985 when he DeLorean’d himself into the Eisenhower years. Mr. Sandman, just bury me.)
I was never the biggest fan of director Barry Sonnenfeld’s artisan-like job on the Steven Spielberg property when the 1997 original came out. Yes, Men in Black the First delivered a competent good time without insulting the audience’s intelligence, which automatically put it well above the baseline for summer entertainment that year (lest we forget Harrison Ford’s President James Marshall growling, “Get! Off! My! Plane!”). But given the movie’s pretty obvious debt to Ghostbusters, I always thought it seemed slight, and the chemistry between Jones and Smith always felt engineered, unlike the dynamite friction between Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis and Annie Potts.
If I mention casting, it’s because MIB3‘s one ace in the hole is the decision to cast Josh Brolin as the 1969 version of Agent K. Though the script doesn’t give him nearly enough to do, Brolin nails Jones’ drawl and carriage, at the same time as he suggests the uncanny valley between how Agent K used to be before whatever happened to him to make him so gruff and craggy (i.e. age) happened. Brolin’s vigor makes the comparative indolence of Smith and the check-cashing cameo appearance by Jones all the more irksome.
Bottom line: the experience of Men in Black 3 — enjoyable enough in the moment but something that evaporates instantly from your memory like hand sanitizer — will either have you feeling older than Murtaugh, Riggs and Agent K combined, or as though you’ve just looked into the flashing light of that portable neuralyzer. It’s summer movie smack, and it leaves you hungry only for more of the same.