Three The Hard Way
By Carl Kozlowski
It’s been a few years since Will Smith was one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, with a new blockbuster released every July 4th weekend. His last movie, Seven Pounds, came out in December 2008, with the maudlin tearjerker becoming only his second box-office failure since Wild, Wild West.
Since then, Smith seems to have focused more on making his son Jaden a movie star and his daughter Willow a pop music diva, while dodging tabloid reports that his marriage to actress Jada Pinkett Smith is falling apart. With that in mind, one can hardly blame Philly’s Fresh Prince for going the super-safe route on his comeback film and choosing to do a third chapter in the Men in Black film series.
Yes, it’s better than 2002’s God-awful Men in Black II, but it’s still not close to touching the comic sci-fi brilliance of the first film from 1997. The twist in this one, for both good and bad effect, is that Agent K—the gruff senior agent played by Tommy Lee Jones—wipes out his existence from the world’s collective memory due to severe depression.
In a move that seems to parallels Smith’s own attempt to relive past glories, Smith’s Agent J has to dive back in time to 1969, when a younger and more vibrant Agent K was battling aliens on the streets of New York. The younger K, played with surprising zest by Josh Brolin, has yet to face off against alien super-criminal Boris the Animal, a murderous creature who is supposed to lose his arm in a gun battle with K and wind up exiled for eternity to a moon-based prison.
But the battle between K and Boris is in danger of taking an entirely different turn, as Boris escapes from his lunar prison cell in 2012 and heads back to earth in 1969, ready to seek revenge by killing K before the agent can shoot his arm off. With K out of the picture, Boris can ease the way for his evil alien race to invade earth and obliterate life as we know it—meaning Agent J and the younger Agent K have to not only save Agent K, but the entire world.
Thus begins a plot that is made a bit too convoluted through its heavy use of science-fiction lingo in some scenes. The first half-hour gets off to a rough start, as Boris is too gross for a film that children will want to see, and the initial gun battle in a Chinese restaurant feels too much like over-the-top action films of the 1980s, complete with slow motion. The jokes early on also fall flat, that is before Emma Thompson as the boss of the Men in Black arrives with a hilarious impression of an alien’s speech patterns.
The movie becomes much more enjoyable when Smith’s Agent J leaps back into 1969 to save Agent K and the world from Boris’ invasion. The effects as Smith leaps into the past are spectacular. Likewise, his interactions as a 2012 African-American man dealing with 1969’s hostile racial climate are frequently funny, but that aspect of life in those times should have been a larger element of the script.
By the end of the film, there is so much action and enough funny lines to make this a fun ride. While not up to the standards of The Avengers, it does stand as a much more entertaining film than the summer dud Dark Shadows. It’s actually about par with the slapdash yet entertaining charms of Battleship. But here’s hoping Will Smith can find something truly original to do for his next film.