The answer to the all-important question is; ‘No. Will Smith has not recorded a new song for the Men In Black 3 soundtrack. Pitbull did it instead and frankly it wouldn’t have made the B-side for Big Willie Style.’ Now the big issues are out of the way, let’s discuss the film.
MIB3 sees Agent J (Smith) journey back to 1969 in order to prevent Boris the Animal, played by Flight of the Conchords’ own Jemaine Clement, from exacting revenge on the young agent K (Josh Brolin – True Grit) and altering the course of intergalactic history.
The main addition to the cast is Emma Thompson as Agent O (whose abbreviation appears to have been chosen purely for one quite weak gag) with cameos from Will Arnett and Bill Hader. Each of these minor characters provides laughs with Hader’s turn as Andy Warhol the pick of the bunch.
The risky (and plot-hole-inducing) device of time-travel does generate problems. Most notably, why can only J remember K once the future is rewritten? However, the first half hour of the film demonstrates why such an elaborate narrative has been constructed. The relationship between Tommy Lee-Jones’ aging K and Smith’s J is, whilst not quite stagnating, unlikely to provide the thrills this kind of Summer Blockbuster is looking for. The pair sustain the framing sections well but the spark and drive of the original is absent. By returning J to the fish-out-of-water rookie role the film allows Will Smith to be Will Smith.
Crucially, it also allows Josh Brolin to be Tommy Lee-Jones. Already renowned for his impersonation skills having played President George Bush in Oliver Stone’s W., Brolin cements his reputation as a consummate thespian-squatter; inhabiting other people’s mannerisms, body language and intonation perfectly. Clement is also convincing and provides possibly the best bad-guy voice-acting since Alan Rickman’s heyday.
Other positives include the memorable and well incorporated set-pieces, the crisp 3D and the witty negotiation of 60s racial issues. Smith’s encounter with a pair of prejudiced policemen is arguably the best deneurolizer scene in all of cinema. Not all of the incidental filler is as much of a hit – the TV shop exchanges feel lazily written and reliant of the kind of racially orientated jokes that would have Idris Elba pulling his hair out. A more substantial structural fault is the insertion of an ungainly daddy-issues narrative for J. The saccharine schmaltz does not chime with the cynicism or edge of the original and creates an awkward shift in tone.
Despite Smith not contributing to the soundtrack, Danny Elfman demonstrates the enduring nature of his writing by regurgitating the orchestral backing from 1997 to great effect. Another neat nod to the franchise’s beginnings is a shot-for-shot re-imaging of the ‘noisy-cricket’ sequence which, depending on your outlook and opinion of the previous films, will either feel hackneyed or bring back fond memories. Whilst this film may have relocated to the 60s, the tone of the franchise still feels very much rooted in the 90s. None of the harsh realism of a Nolan sci-fi thriller encroaches on screen nor does the Apatow stoner-school of comedy. Instead MIB3 is a gentle family friendly romp which works well whether you’re familiar with the series or not. As entertainment MIB3 is an amusing distraction but this summer looks destined to be remembered for blockbusters that say an awful lot more than ‘Damn!’