Friday, May 25, 2012

Men In Black 3 ★★★

It Captures The Charm of the First Film

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Like nearly everyone else who has seen Men In Black 3, I asked myself if anyone out there was really championing a third chapter to this seemingly dead franchise. The first film had that lightning-in-the-bottle quality to it by having an interesting take on the buddy-cop genre with its two leads, Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith; two people whom you would never think would work well together. Men In Black 2, on the other hand, proved that the magic of the first film could not sustain a sequel and left us all with a sour taste in our mouth. That being said, I entered this third film with great apprehension and left the theatre (surprisingly) feeling relieved and also quite glad that I had decided to see it. Men In Black 3 manages to capture that same charm that the first film did by having a time travel story in which Will Smith's Agent J must travel back to 1969 to rescue a younger K (played brilliantly by Josh Brolin) and stop an alien invasion.

It was the odd-couple pairing of these two men that worked so well in Men In Black, which this film achieves by having J and K meet each other for the first time - again. Let me explain: It's established in the present that in their fourteen years of being partners, K has never opened up to J emotionally. J tries to get little nuggets of information out of him but is lucky to get one sentence. K is both distraught and distracted when he learns that an alien that he imprisoned in 1969, Boris (Jemaine Clement), has escaped and wants him dead. Boris travels back to 1969 and kills the younger K, thereby changing the future to allow for yet another alien invasion. This leaves J with one mission: Go back to the day before Boris arrives in 1969, kill Boris before he can kill K, and put the timeline back on its natural course. When J goes back in time and finally explains the situation to the younger K, he's shocked to see a side of his partner he's never known: K is friendlier and more open, offering to tell J anything he wants to know about him. Like I said, they meet for the first time - again.

Even though it's not Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith together again (except for maybe ten minutes of screen time for Jones in the beginning and then briefly again at the end of the film) we get that feeling of nostalgia for what the first film did so successfully as well as an entirely new story that re-introduces us to these characters. Christy Lemire's review of the film claims that Will Smith comes across as bored in his role but I disagree with that wholeheartedly. I think he's aged J quite well, adding something new to the character while still reminding us why we love seeing Smith in a role like this. He's still J, just a little bit older. Jones on the other hand does come across as bored and a little out of place, which make the present-day scenes the weakest parts of an otherwise solid film. This surprised me, as I entered the film thinking I would hate it because Jones was in it so little considering he was the best part of the previous two installments.

Josh Brolin delivers the best performance of Men In Black 3. He brings his own take to the role of K, but somehow captures every bit of Jones making the audience completely buy that he is the younger incarnation of this beloved character. It's his fresh take on the role that reminds us of why Jones was so great in Men In Black. The running gag is that Brolin, currently in his forties, is playing the twenty-nine year-old K, which prompts the hilarious line from J that K has some "city miles" on him.

The supporting characters in this film enhance the world that the characters inhabit. Michael Stuhlbarg is a lot of fun in the role of Griffin, an alien who sees many timelines at once; Bill Hader is a riot as Andy Warhol; and Clement is unrecognizably evil as Boris, the best villain in the series since Vincent D'Onofrio as Edgar the Bug. If there are any complaints about the supporting cast, it's that I missed seeing Tony Shalhoub as Jack Jeebs (and for those of you out there who say there's no place for him in this film, I argue that he could have easily taken the place of Michael Chernus as Jeffery Price, the time-travel expert) and longed for David Cross to make a cameo as Newton. Yes, my own bias is always a desire to see favorite characters return, so long as their serviced, but I just felt that despite the time-travel story, there was a place for all of them to show up in some capacity.

It's no secret that Men In Black 3 had a troubled production. They began shooting with an unfinished script to take advantage of the soon-to-expire New York City tax credit, took about a four-month break to finish the script, then recommenced shooting. From the start it sounded like this film was destined to fail, but somehow, in addition to the great performances of Smith and Brolin, the film has a fun story to tell.

Time travel is always tricky and this film may be guilty of a few paradoxes, however, every question I had, both before entering the film and during it, was answered. (I wondered how if K is killed in the past and no one remembers the original timeline, J is the only one to remember K.) The film comes across as one that had a story it wanted to tell and without much effort knew where it was going and how it would end. While that doesn't seem to be the case, the film certainly could have fooled me.

These are minor complaints of a film that is a lot of fun in the summer blockbuster season. While virtually no one was championing another Men In Black sequel, I'm glad that they made this film. If this is the end of the series (and I really hope it is), I'm grateful that it leaves me with a fond memory of the franchise, redeeming it from the horror that was Men In Black 2.

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