[Review] – Men In Black III

25 May

Title: Men in Black III
Year: 2012
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Writers: Etan Cohen, David Koepp, Jeff Nathanson and Michael Soccio, based on the comic book by Lowell Cunningham
Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emma Thompson, Nicole Scherzinger, Alice Eve, Bill Hader
MPAA Rating: PG-13, sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content
Runtime: 103 min
IMDb Rating: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Metacritic: 58

Men in Black, the 1997 film, is one that I absolutely love, probably one of the most entertaining summer blockbusters of the last twenty years or so, actually, and that was because it was ridiculously smart in how it was plotted out and written, because the set pieces were undeniably awesome, and because the lead performances, by Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, had infinite amounts of charm. That was back when Will Smith was just becoming a movie star, and that was the third film in that streak he used in the mid-nineties to really consolidate himself as one of the biggest box office draws in the planet, after the success of both Bad Boys in 1995 and Independence Day in 1996.

In 2002 came the inevitable sequel, Men in Black II, and that was just a huge, huge step down from the quality the first had achieved, mostly because it felt like they were just rehashing all the stuff that the first one did to feel so damn original. Will Smith, however, was still Will Smith, and continued to show us just how much screen presence he had. The guy became known as pretty much box office draw, “The King of 4th of July” they dubbed him because of how well he opened movies in that weekend. And the results really are undeniable: he’s the only actor ever to have eight consecutive films in which he’s starred open at #1 at the domestic box office and the only one to have eight consecutive films gross over $100 million domestically. That $100 million landmark, by the way, has been reached by fourteen out of the nineteen films he’s starred in.

Well, it’s been a decade since the last Men in Black film hit theaters, and Mr. Smith hasn’t been on screen since 2008’s Seven Pounds. And, even though I did want to see Mr. Smith back on screen again because I think he’s pretty great, I was really doubtful about wanting to have Men in Black III be a film that actually exists, partially because it had been ten years since the last one, and especially because the last one had been a huge letdown for me. And then the reports about how this film was being made started coming in, and I really didn’t want to see how this one turned out.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me fill you in: the production stumbled into a lot of issues (and no, I’m not talking about that ridiculously huge trailer Will Smith rented out while they were shooting in New York), it just had lots of delays going on in its production schedule. And while that may spell trouble, it’s not necessarily that alarming; what was alarming was the fact that director Barry Sonnenfeld, who has directed all three installments of the franchise, came out and literally said “We knew starting the movie that we didn’t have a finished second or third act. Was it responsible? The answer is, if the movie does as well as I think it will, it was genius. If it’s a total failure, then it was a really stupid idea”.

Seriously, guys, this was a movie that was pretty much being written as they were filming it, and sometimes they had to pretty much improvise on the spot because the pages weren’t ready by the time they were shooting. A film like that just would never work out, right? Well, wrong, actually. That’s right, it seems like Mr. Sonnenfeld may well enough consider himself a genius, because Men in Black III, though far from the heights reached by the first one, is heaps better than its predecessor, and actually makes for really solid entertainment.

It’s obviously not a brilliant movie, because, let’s face it, a film that was being written while it was being shot will probably never be great, and maybe you can’t say that this is a film that warrants the revival of a franchise that hadn’t been active for ten years, but I don’t know, something inside of me really responded to this film. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I did go into with super low expectations, or maybe it was merely because Josh Brolin is about ten kinds of amazing in this one.

In case you’ve missed out on any promotional material for this film, then let me just tell you that Mr. Brolin here plays Agent K, the Tommy Lee Jones character. That’s right, Agent J, the character played by Mr. Smith, actually goes back in tim, because the life of Agent K, and the whole of Earth really, is threatened. And back there he teams up with his young partner and learns a lot about him, as well as a lot of secrets he hadn’t been let on to know before. And Josh Brolin just absolutely nails the Tommy Lee Jones impression, and it’s him, not Will Smith, who’s the biggest reason as to why this movie ended up being so damn fun for me.

The chemistry between Mr. Brolin and Mr. Smith, which I really didn’t expect to see in this one, is another big reason in why you start really digging what this one throws at you. And it definitely works very much in its favor the fact that people just weren’t expecting much from an old franchise that had a mediocre last film and public problems in production, it came to us with no real agenda and because of that it actually manages to be a true example for future big, commercial franchises that may want to be revived (though I’m still very much against that idea as a general rule).

Rick Baker is obviously the man in charge of creating those aliens that the government’s secret agency is in charge of protecting us against. And this guy is a legend for a reason, a seven-time Oscar winner (the fifth of which came for the first Men in Black) who really knows how to create some memorable creatures. One of those creations here is Boris the Animal, the alien played by Jemaine Clement, who’s this really evil alien, the last one of his race, who has escaped a maximum security prison in the moon and wants to travel back in time and kill Agent K before Agent K has a chance to shoot off one of his arms, which he did later in the future.

So that’s why Agent J travels back in time, to prevent that, and to team up with his mentor, who in this new place and time is actually more like his contemporary, though still very much Agent K, thanks to the spot-on performance Mr. Brolin gives. And then there’s Michael Stuhlbarg (who, like Mr. Jones and Mr. Brolin, has acted for the Coen brothers) as the comic relief character of Griffin, an alien who has the psychic ability of being able to foresee the different possible futures mankind may be heading towards in the time travel scenes. He’s an awesome character, and Mr. Stuhlbarg plays him with a perfect kind of sweetness that makes him a stand-out.

Going back in time also allows the film to avoid, partly, what made the second one such a disappointment. Because by going back the 60’s they don’t have to play out the typical things you’d expect in these films, I mean, it does that, but because it does it in this new setting with iconic locations and figures like Andy Warhol popping up it feels somewhat fresher than it otherwise would. I don’t know, I just really liked Men in Black III far, far better than I expected to; it was damn fun, had the characters we love back, added a few new memorable ones, and it had great aliens and awesome set pieces. Sure, it may still not warrant the revival of a ten-year-old franchise, but what the hell, this is Hollywood, after all, I’m just damn glad it ended up being as entertaining as this was.

Grade: B+

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