Monday, September 17, 2012
Day 153: Men in Black 3
"A miracle is something that seems impossible, but it happens anyway."
Confession time. I am a fan of the first two Men in Black films. Yes, even the second one. I know that most people hate the second one, and it's rightly derided for being unimaginative, but there's something about the casting of Tommy Lee Jones that makes Will Smith's tired schtick bearable for me. In all honesty though, I wasn't all that jazzed about a third film, particularly ten years after the second one. I think there needs to be a moratorium put on sequels after a certain number of years. Five years (the amount of time between the first two films) is pushing it, but ten years is a real stretch.
Apprehension is the only way that one can approach this film and have even a remote chance of liking it. It's not a great film, by any stretch of the imagination, but if you like the first one, you'll like this one. The climax is hasty (I read that they began filming without a completed script), but overall, it works really well. I think that the major thing that the filmmakers did well with this one was narrowing the focus to just the relationship between J & K having that be the driving force of the film. When the stakes are simply for them to save the world, it doesn't land with any real emotional impact, but when the stakes are no higher than J having to save his partner, the film ends up having much more resonance.
The film opens with a jailbreak by an alien mass-murderer by the name of Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement, fantastic as usual). Boris intends to travel back in time to 1969, when Agent K originally shot off his arm and imprisoned him, and kill K before he has a chance to do so. There's also the matter of K obtaining a device that prevents Boris' home planet from invading Earth, but this was honestly just a secondary plot development, designed to raise the stakes of the mission. At heart, it's about J traveling back in time to stop his partner from being killed.
When he arrives in 1969, J teams up with the younger K (Josh Brolin) in hopes of finding out what made him into the grump that he is in the present day. I will say, free of any substantial spoilers, that the reason that they do end up giving didn't have the emotional wallop that I wanted it to, but it may work really well for some audience members.
Now, about that device (in both senses of the word) they're trying to prevent Boris from getting his hands on. Well, it is given to K by probably my favorite character created in the Men in Black universe up until now. The character's name is Griffin and he is played by Michael Stuhlbarg, whom you may remember from Hugo & A Serious Man, and he is part of an alien race that exists in multiple planes of existence simultaneously. In other words, he can see multiple variations on every scenario that they're presented with. I'm explaining it poorly, but it works extraordinarily well, and it feels like the first thing in this series that doesn't feel trite or derivative of another work of science fiction. He steals the whole movie.
As I said earlier, the pairing of Jones & Smith works really well again here, but Brolin also gets a gold star for his performance as a young Tommy Lee Jones. He's really great and nails the character's surliness, while also giving him a softer edge. Alice Eve is much less successful, playing the younger version of Emma Thompson's character, who has taken over leadership of the MIB program since the (off-screen) death of Rip Torn's Zed. You know, it's funny, I really looked forward to seeing Rip Torn again, but was sad that his character was cut.
Clement is great as the series' best villain, by far, making him both dangerous and funny, something that the previous villains have failed to capture. There are also, at least, two funny cameos, my favorite of which was J's partner in the alternate reality without K. Barry Sonnenfeld is a comedy genius (yeah, I said it) and knows how to mine great comedy from outlandish scenarios. He sometimes doesn't succeed (see RV or Wild, Wild West for examples of this. Or better yet, don't), but he sometimes nails it, and while this film doesn't always nail it, it comes close often enough for me to call it a success.
I don't think this series needs to continue. I didn't really think it needed to before, and that hasn't stopped them, so who knows. If it does continue, I hope that they keep the story focus small, as it seems to have served them well here. As I said, if you like the first two, you'll like this one, but I also think if you're not a fan of part 2, you'll find a lot to like here. It's got a damn good cast, and hits more than it misses, but don't run right out and see it if you missed it. I'm sure it'll be in endless replay on cable soon enough. And that's right where this series belongs. And I don't mean that as an insult.