Men in Back (in Time)

Men in Black 3 time travels to the late ‘60s, an interesting way to freshen the series. Then, the movie does nothing with the idea.

That’s not entirely fair – Men in Black 3 does strengthen the relationship between J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones), recentering the duo by exploring a previously unseen past. The best part of that happens later, in the final minutes actually, so that leaves the rest flattened.

In terms of history, the American ‘60s represented a tumultuous decade. It’s as if Men in Black 3 actively avoids it, instead using the cheery cliches of hippies, Andy Warhol, and beehive hair as if an Austin Powers entry. Men in Black, at least in form of the 1997 original, felt above that. That inventive sci-fi took human nature to task. This one doesn’t seem interested.

[Men in Black 3] leaves the setting without meaning, a matter of set dressing

It’s fine, as a sequel. Credit to Josh Brolin for a spot-on Tommy Lee Jones impression. Jermaine Clement chews the screen under heavy make-up as Men in Black 3’s villain. And Will Smith returns, oddly sedate and matured from his more brash portrayal of film’s past. That shows growth of this character, without losing comedic bite.

But what a miss not to explore the pervasiveness of UFO culture, social upheaval, or other thematic possibilities of a story set like this. That leaves the setting without meaning, a matter of set dressing. No Nixon zingers? No JFK conspiracy? In the finale, Neil Armstrong and crew take off for the moon – that wasn’t pushed ahead by alien tech?

Too much of Men in Black 3 feels unexplored, or gun shy. At one stage, J is pulled over by police, the black man of the ‘60s dressed in a nice suit driving an expensive car. The script plays it for laughs, the cops none too serious, and J enjoying the chance to mock the bigoted attitudes. It’s worth a gag, but ultimately throw-away and as close as Men in Black 3 comes to tapping into the genuine ‘60s. Civil rights water down to a single joke.

There’s a lot of decoration here. Visual effects play dress up to a routine, mega-budget summer popcorn movie, the type of thrills Men in Black prefers. The lineage is there, so is design creativity. Neither of those aspects were lost. Ultimately, this trilogy-maker fizzles into an oblivion, a wrap-up film for Smith and Jones without a decisive kick.

Video

The newest of the three, yet the weakest in terms of visual punch. Men in Black 3 does not have the look of a 4K master. Rather chunky grain and average (for this format) definition put this below the 1997 original. To note, this is detailed. Close-ups display necessary texture. Cityscapes find sharpness. It’s just not THAT type of sharpness expected of Sony given their marvelous output to date. IMDB lists Men in Black 3 as a 4K finish. That’s likely wrong.

Luckily, the rest comes together. Be on the lookout for jaw-dropping color examples including a theme park shoot-out, the flags near the Apollo launch site, and an overall deeply saturated palette. Flesh tones render accurately thanks to a color correction pass that leaves well enough alone.

Deep black levels keep shadows rich and careful as to not lose details. Overall depth succeeds, accentuated by an HDR pass full of vigor. Not only does this produce some pleasing highlights (from reflecting chrome to lasers) but vivid skylines too. That helps.

Audio

Pushed into Dolby Atmos, early LFE suffers from a lack of tightness. That’s audible as Boris begins breaking out of the moon prison. This will self-correct as time goes on, leaving those earlier scenes an anomaly. By the time Apollo 11 begins take-off procedures, rocket engines push the subwoofer to its limits with extravagant LFE power.

Surrounds do their best work during a chase sequence, sending motors around the soundstage, shattering glass panning between speakers, and other small ambient effects mixed in. Other action scenes like the opening restaurant shootout have a few nice cues, making for some vibrant motion. Design still sounds reserved though, even in comparison to the first two Men in Black 4K offerings.

Extras

All bonuses reside on the included Blu-ray. Partners in Time leads, a fluffy making-of with little meat for almost a half hour. Evolution of Cool at least offers insight into set design and how the ’60s era headquarters was crafted. Keeping it Surreal is all visual effects, all the time, including the extension of backgrounds you never knew were there.

Four “Scene Investigations” (otherwise known as breakdowns until marketing grabbed it) pass through four select sequences to show how they were completed. Progression reels (six of ’em) do much the same, but more directly. A gag reel has a laugh or two worth watching, while an entirely forgettable game and music video lock this disc to its bonus features fate.

Men in Black 3
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  • Audio
  • Extras
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Men in Black 3 travels back to the late ’60s, but seems fearful to treat the time period with authenticity and uses it only for set dressing.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 48 full 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: