Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Men in Black 3 - Theatrical Review




MEN IN BLACK 3




Release Date: May 25, 2012

The men in black are back after a 10 year hiatus. This third installment, while not as good as the first outing, goes the extra mile to erase the bad taste of the sequel while also proving that there is still a lot of life left in this once lucrative franchise.




Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Tyler Galleria AMC 16 Riverside
Time: 7:20 pm May 26, 2012
Projector Type: (L)IMAX - Digital 3D
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 1 hr 45 min
Studio: Sony

Biases:
Loves: The first MIB, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin
Likes: Will Smith, the bizarre MIB universe
Neutral: 10 years between sequels
Hates: MIB 2
Fact: At 375 million dollars, MIB3 is officially the most expensive movie of all time


15 years ago there was this little movie called Men In Black. It starred a renowned veteran actor in one of his very first comedic roles and a young upstart who was coming off a hit television series and the previous years big summer blockbuster hit, Independence Day. To say that first film was a surprise success would be somewhat of an understatement, but now it seems kind of silly to think no one expected that movie to be as huge as it ended up being. It was smartly scripted, had a fun cast and a premise that was silly and extremely entertaining. I still remember going to see it in the theater expecting just some fun little romp with aliens and some neat effects and maybe a couple of laughs. But I was just blown away by its unique and just generally bizarre world, it was just so rich with unique touches throughout its clever premise. Both Smith and Lee were at the top of their game and played off each other perfectly, it was funny as hell, had great effects, a superb score by Danny Elfman and seemed poised to be the next big franchise. Then Men In Black 2 came out and ruined all of that forward momentum with its horrible attempts at recycling everything that made that first film so special and failing on almost every level possible. Fast forward ten years later and we find ourselves faced with a third installment that nobody seemed to be expecting, let alone actually wanting. Was the wait worth it? Read on to find out.

After being recruited by Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) into the ultra secret MIB organization almost two decades ago, Agent J (Will Smith) finds that he knows absolutely nothing about his long standing partner. He gets the chance to get to know his partner a little better however when the ruthless criminal Boris the Animal (Jermaine Clement) breaks out of the lunar maximum security prison and travels 40 years into the past to exact revenge on K, the man responsible for imprisoning him and wiping out his entire race. J must then travel back in time after him to prevent K from being murdered and of course saving the human race from complete extinction once again.

10 years later, Agents J and K are still protecting the Earth from an alien invasion.

I was not really looking forward to MIB3 at all. I thought the first film was a fantastic bit of sci-fi fun, the second somehow found a way to make everything that was fun in the first film fell boring and tedious and this third film felt like a money grab more or less. My one thought at hearing about MIB3 was why? Who was asking for this sequel? I know I wasn't and I certainly didn't feel the need to trample over my happy memories of the first film once again by revisiting the franchise for yet another sad attempt at recapturing that original magic. All signs pointed towards disaster despite having the original cast and director back on board, there just didn't seem to be any reason for this movie to exist at all in this day and time. The MIB series was dead and buried, a relic of Will Smith's rise to stardom and nothing more. I was expecting this third film to be the final nail in the coffin, to further prove why this franchise would be better left alone. I was prepared to hate every minute I spent with it, but a strange thing happened while watching it. It actually started to grow on me again. I found myself having a good time watching J and K rid the world of alien scum while protecting Earth from constant threats. This was not the movie I or anyone expected and I think that is this films greatest achievement, it made the MIB series somewhat relevant again.

Much like last years Rise of the Planet of the Apes did, MIB3 has reignited my interest in the series to the point where I would actually look forward to another one. I have always enjoyed its strange and bizarre world filled with all sorts of creatures and characters. It always felt like this huge playground of interesting ideas and concepts that would feel completely out of place in any other film or television show but feels right at home in the MIB universe. It never feels the need to ever explain itself which is also extremely refreshing. Why is there a maximum security prison on the moon? Because it looks cool, that's why. Why does Will Smith fight a gigantic fish? Because it's his job, that's why. The really strange thing about its relaxed nature is that it conflicts rather drastically with my usual need to have as much as possible explained. That is strange because I am usually a huge stickler for having things make sense and be explained, but for some reason the MIB universe gets a free pass because of its simple approach to these larger than life events and its general laid back nature. It doesn't take itself too seriously so why should I? This is the first film to have the larger than life alien invasion in the background which is just downright unusual.

Agent J learns how to time jump.

But the unusual is where the MIB films strengths lie and there is certainly no shortage of unusual in MIB3. Within the first few minutes we are introduced to our villain who is being visited by a half naked woman with a jelly cake ON THE MOON! In any other movie that would seem odd but here you just kind of go with the flow. I mean, the main piece of equipment used in the film is the time traveling device. Do we get an explanation on how it was built or why it was built? Hell no, all we get is this hippie electronics salesman telling Agent J how to use it and the next thing you know we see J jump off a building and get propelled through a quick highlight of our planets extensive history which is just sort of awe inspiring. If it did feel the need to explain any of this it would most likely hurt the film in the long run because one of the greatest strengths of all the MIB films (yes, even the second one) is their very conservative runtime.

I cannot neglect to mention the superb casting choices either. Holdovers, Smith and Jones, have always been a great pair, Smith with his wise cracks and street smarts mixed Jones' deadpan humor and dry delivery make for the perfect odd couple. While it isn't anything more than you standard buddy cop formula, just like any good formula you need the key ingredients to make it right and both Smith and Jones are exceptional as always. I would be remiss to leave out a tiny nitpick though, one leveled at Will Smith mostly. According to Agent J, he has been with the MIB organization for over 15 years now (they are keeping it in real time with the release of the first film for some reason) and yet he still acts just as astonished by the lunacy going on around him as he did when he first arrived back in '97. During the eulogy for Zed (the old boss of MIB played by the late-great Rip Torn) by his replacement Agent O (Emma Thompson) she proceeds to speak in this alien language that was just plain odd, where we get all these great reaction shots from J as he proceeds to comprehend the weirdness going on around him. That scene, while funny, just didn't feel right.

MIB headquarters in the 60's was a happening place.

I know that Smith's character is supposed to be our guide into this ridiculous universe, the person we are supposed to use as our hold on reality so that it never becomes TOO crazy. But while that worked like a charm in the first film due to him actually being new to the MIB then, it feels like a bit of a stretch here. Shouldn't he be used to all this by now? I suppose the only way to have sidetracked such an obvious issue is to introduce us to a whole new character but since Smith is the poster child for the MIB series that was clearly not in the cards. Like I said though, that is just a simple nit pick and for what its worth I thought Smith proved that he is still able to turn on that charm when he needs to. He even provided probably the single best bit of comedy in the film with his explanation on how he knew both O and K's names during his trip to the past, which if you are clever enough will pick up on just by re-reading this sentence.

As for Jones, he is simply Tommy Lee Jones here. Nothing more and nothing less...well, let me take that back because there is certainly a lot less of him this time around, even less than in the second film where he didn't show up until the half way point of that one. Strangely enough he is used mostly as a plot device this time around, he is the cause of everything that happens in the film and not because of anything he does, but more about what he has already done. Normally that would be a drastic mistake to relegate one of the main characters as nothing more than the thing that sets off the chain of events, but that is forgiven due to the ace up the films sleeve with the whole time travel gimmick which allows us to explore a whole new side of Agent K as portrayed through the amazing and inspired performance by Josh Brolin as a young(er) version of the dry witted MIB super agent.

Josh Brolin is without a doubt the best thing MIB3 has going for it.

Josh Brolin steals the show every single second he is on screen. But it isn't because of how funny he is or how spot on his impression of Tommy Lee Jones is (although he is deserves a lot of recognition for that bit), it's because of the amount of genuine warmth he brings to a character who for the most part has been seen as this cranky old man who has seen everything there is to see and is now bored with life. Brolin's Agent K is that character BEFORE he turns into the Agent K we have grown to love and I gotta admit, I kind of like Brolin's version a little bit better. It's not that Jones is bad or anything, its just that we have seen him doing the same thing for the past two films with absolutely no real character development for him. So, it was a real treat seeing a different side to K, how he is able to crack a smile every now and then, seems almost relatable (he can't understand how J and him had been partners for so long and didn't know anything about each other) and he actually seems to care about his job, his friends and his own personal life. Its not that the older K is bitter, but more like he just bottles everything up and doesn't want to express himself. Lastly on the character front I have to make quick mention of Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin. He easily ranks up there as one of the most intriguing and loveable characters to come along in quite a while and every time he was on screen it just put a smile on my face.

That of course leads into one of the other elements I really liked about MIB3 and yet another thing I wasn't expecting at all, which is some honest to goodness real emotional impact. The first two films were fun and exciting (well, maybe not the second one), but they never strived for anything more than that, which is fine, I don't think I or anyone ever expected anything more out of them beyond that.. However, I really appreciated how for this third go around the filmmakers didn't just rely on stuff they had done before and actually attempted to add some depth to the characters beyond their usual slap sticky personalities. What we learn about K and how he became the man that Tommy Lee Jones portrays is almost sort of tragic and also completely unexpected from a movie of this sort. I think there are going to be quite a few people that go see this that will be surprised at how often they will have to wipe a tear or two from their eyes. It goes places most summer movie blockbusters almost never go and I for one respect that.

Agent J and the young Agent K make for a great pair.

Now, the question you may be asking yourself at this point is whether or not there are any negatives to all this? Unfortunately there are quite a good number of negatives but their impact and your reaction to them will ultimately derive from how much enjoyment you get out of the film. Remember when I said that the MIB films never felt the need to explain themselves and how I am OK with that? Well, that is true but that doesn't mean there weren't things that stretched that suspension of disbelief a bit too far at times. Such as your usual time paradoxes and how certain characters can be one place and another at the same time or how such a dangerous criminal is allowed to have visitors who are not properly searched before hand. Probably the biggest leap the film takes though is with the idea that only J remembers who K is once he is wiped from the current timeline and nobody else does. It is never gone into and it leaves a giant gaping plot hole in its wake. But to be honest I was having so much fun with the film by that point that it didn't really bother me that much. The way I see it, as long as I am having fun and there aren't plot holes everywhere I look, then I can let a couple of things here and there slide by.

Probably the biggest and most perplexing issue though is the somewhat uneven special effects work. This film has been reported to be the most expensive movie ever made and I gotta tell you, I just don't see where all that money went (probably in Will Smith's bank account I'm guessing). The creature effects by make up artist guru Rick Baker are still second to none, but the actual CG effects are just all over the place. The time jump sequence, while a thrilling and inventive take on time travel, was so clearly CG that it almost detracted from the imaginative sights being thrown at me. Boris' escape from his prison at the beginning of the film where we see him moon walk is so clearly a CG character model that it looked almost cartoonish. But then you have the shootout in the Chinese restaurant which was well staged and featured a gigantic fish that beat the crap out of Will Smith which looked pretty good. The effects, while never too distracting, were certainly well below par when compared to other recent effects heavy films such as The Avengers and Battleship, both of which had pretty impressive effects across the board at a lower cost than this.

But alas, this movie's greatest hurdle to overcome is not so much being a good movie or even just a competent one (it has done that), but it is in the difficult position of making the MIB name relevant again. The world can be a cruel place to a franchise that has laid dormant as long as the MIB series, let alone one that went out on such a sour note. This review itself is almost irrelevant in regards to convincing anyone to actually go out there and see it. Many have given up on it a long time ago while others never really cared to begin with, so no matter what I say it will probably fall upon deaf ears. Which is unfortunate because MIB3 is an entertaining piece of summer popcorn movie fun that I believe will put a smile on just about anyones face. All they have to do is find it in their heart to actually give a dam about this once popular franchise and go out there to determine for themselves if these men in black are long past their expiration date or if they still have a few more years. My two cents on this matter is this, if you're looking for a solid 105 minutes of escapist fun that you might not remember much about the following day, then give MIB3 a shot. Besides, you probably need a break from seeing The Avengers for the tenth time. So do yourself a favor and...


CHECK IT OUT


Don't miss our latest episode of The LRA Show where we discuss Men in Black 3 in much greater detail. The episode can be downloaded or streamed at the following link:


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