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Review: Men in Black 3 Will Erase All Meaning in Your Life

Will Smith has starred in lots of formulaic movies. And he knows better than anyone that there’s something comforting as well as exhilarating about a movie that plays out according to a set of steps. Which is what makes Men in Black 3 so weird: It’s a movie where the blockbuster formula is the opposite of comforting.

The random plot twists and unfunny jokes in Men in Black 3 are so oppressive, you’ll come away with a deep, gnawing sense of the futility and meaninglessness of existence. This is a film so empty, it leaves you eagerly anticipating the heat death of the cosmos.

The clever conceit of the first Men in Black movie was the way it combined two genres: the zany alien movie and the buddy-cop comedy. You kind of know what to expect from both of those genres, most of the time, but when you put them together there are a few new sparks. By the time Men in Black 2 came out, the combination of both felt just as tired as either of them on its own.

So Men in Black 3 tries to jumpstart those two tired genres by adding a third often-predictable genre: the time-travel comedy. Unfortunately, mashing together three by-the-numbers storylines, and putting absolutely no thought into any of them, results in a movie that’s not just meaningless — it’s meaning-repellent. It’s a film with the power to wipe out any meaning you may currently have in your own life.

If you walk into Men in Black 3 believing in God, you will leave an atheist. If you walk into Men in Black 3 a Libertarian, you will emerge as a Socialist. Vegetarians will find themselves gnawing corn dogs in the theater lobby. You will probably cheat on your spouse if you watch this movie, and it won’t be your fault. Because Men in Black 3 erases all sense of logic and sense in the universe, as surely as Agent J’s Neuralyzer erases people’s memories.

That said, there are a few good bits in Men in Black 3. And Josh Brolin is pretty much excellent as the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Agent K. A few of the big special effects set pieces are fun to watch, here and there. There are jetpacks. Bill Hader has a cute guest spot as Andy Warhol, and there’s a funny blink-and-you-missed it Will Arnett moment. MIB3 is probably a better movie than Dark Shadows. (Although I’d recommend seeing Battleship over this one, if you really want to see a new movie. Battleship is tonnes better than MIB3, pun intended.)

But the level of things not making sense in this movie, even within a particular scene, is really appalling. You can pretty much tell that this movie had no script, and then it had too many writers at once. (And meanwhile the producers were arguing with each other and with Barry Sonnenfeld and Will Smith about just what this movie was about, while they were shooting, if recent accounts are to be believed. This film was rushed into production to take advantage of a tax credit that was expiring, and then cranked out by a studio desperate to make back its investment.)

So at this point you’re probably saying, “So what if this movie makes no sense? It’s a summer blockbuster. They’re not supposed to make sense.” Which is fair enough. But what’s particularly horrible about Men in Black 3 is that it tries to delve into the heart of the buddy comedy — the original genre that the first movie tried to cross-fertilize with science fiction — and find the meaning of the relationship between Agents J and K. And instead of finding an emotional core there, it finds a howling void.

Oh, and I do feel guilty for hating another movie so soon after Dark Shadows — but this film left me no choice. You have to believe I did not choose this.

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