Film Review: Men in Black 3 (2012)
Ten years after the campy second installment in the series, audiences reluctantly received Men in Black 3 (2012). F
ew viewers had genuine enthusiasm to revive the sci-fi action-comedy franchise. Fortunately, it is actually a very entertaining movie that recalls some of the fun from the first Men in Black (1997). While it has numerous plot holes and is basically just an amusing diversion like the other two movies, Men in Black 3 is a very enjoyable, lightweight summer blockbuster that surpasses its predecessor in many respects; it is a fairly humorous (chuckle-worthy at least), action-packed (decent CGI), and surprisingly sentimental return to the franchise with a show-stopping performance by Josh Brolin perfectly impersonating a younger Tommy Lee Jones.
The movie wastes no time inciting the plot with a space prison break opening sequence. Boris the Animal (or as he prefers: “just Boris”) has been locked up on the moon’s prison for over forty years after Agent K shot his arm off, set up the Arknet (earth’s planetary defense system against his species the Bogladites), and arrested him, one of the universe’s most notorious serial killers. However, after escaping Boris decides to travel back in time to prevent such things from happening by killing K.
The morning after present-day Agents J and K briefly run into Boris, J comes to work to discover K is dead and has been so for forty years – Boris’ plan succeeded. J seems to be the only one immune to the altered reality, as everyone else either does not know who Agent K is or they believe he has been dead since 1969. J then finds Jeffrey Price, the son of Obadiah (the man who made time travel possible), and hatches a plan to return to July 15, 1969 – one day before K initially confronted and captured Boris – in order to save not only his partner, by killing both present-day and past Boris, but also the planet from a catastrophic Bogladite invasion. After all, the Arknet defense system would not come to be unless K survived to implement it.
When J time jumps (literally) back in time, he eventually finds and partners up with the more youthful, optimistic but still rather deadpan 29-year old Agent K. Older, present-day K hinted that he withheld some significant secrets from his partner. J realizes that whatever forever changed K and made him completely detached and filled with regret is the secret he mentioned before (rather, in the future to be technically correct). This poignant revelation sheds new light on the two agents’ relationship and will likely warm the audience’s heart, though many viewers may be turned off by its sentimentality.
Audiences may not have welcomed the idea of the return of the Men in Black franchise, but they certainly got a refreshing reunion with it in this charming third installment. Like the original, Men in Black 3 offers up nearly everything one expects out of brisk, mass appeal Hollywood summer entertainment (exception: Nolan) – exciting action, lighthearted humor, grand scale, and touching moments of emotion; overall, it is an immersive, albeit diverting, sci-fi fantasy adventure and buddy “cop” dramedy. The CGI may not be the best in the business (though a $250+ million budget might indicate otherwise), but it is still very decent for this kind of cartoonish type of production (just avoid 3D and you should enjoy the special effects just fine). Danny Elfman also returns to the series with his signature score, including both the thrilling main titles and the low-key emotional theme. The comedy aspect is somewhat hit or miss as the campy humor is best given in small doses and most of the jokes are simply chuckle-worthy rather than laugh-out-loud hilarious. Indeed, the movie defines lightweight amusement, but at least it does so in a delightful enough of a manner to excite and entertain rather than annoy the audience.
The real highlight of the film is Josh Brolin’s impeccable performance as a young Agent K. He nails his impression of Tommy Lee Jone’s detached behavior, but adds enough youthful energy and optimism to differentiate his character. Furthermore, it is all the more tender when the audience witnesses K stow away this cheerfulness, knowing the person he becomes in the future. Brolin’s chemistry with series’ star Will Smith (who has surprisingly been absent from films since 2008) is virtually as great as the original duo’s pairing; this is a testament to how well Brolin impersonates Jones as Smith and Brolin never miss a beat as Agents J and K (though J is perhaps a bit wiser given his knowledge of the future). Smith’s performance is hardly different from the other two installments (still giving convoluted neuralyzer statements), but it is still fairly entertaining. Since a majority of the film takes place in 1969, Jones has more of a cameo performance this time around. Nonetheless, he makes his return worthwhile with another spot-on deadpan performance with hints of heartfelt emotion, namely regret and surprising bliss.
Jemaine Clement being the exception as the film’s antagonist Boris the Animal. His villainous turn is adequately menacing, unlike Lara Flynn Boyle’s silly Serleena in Men in Black 2. He has darkly comedic elements similar to Vincent D’Onofrio’s stellar performance as Edgar the bug in Men in Black. Although D’Onofrio’s Edgar is still the best villain of the series, Clement is frightening enough to elicit crowd involvement to root against Boris and take him just seriously enough as a villain capable of going toe-to-toe with MIB’s best.
On the supporting side of things, Men in Black 3 boasts a solid set of character actors to fill in mostly minor roles. Michael Stuhlbarg plays the amiable alien Griffin, who can explore the myriad number of future timelines in his head (for a while he really resembled Robin Williams). Emma Thompson and Alice Eve are decent but underutilized as present-day and past Agent O, the agent who takes over for Zed in the future and a pretty fellow agent friendly with younger Agent K. Nicole Scherzinger, Will Arnett and Bill Hader make amusing cameo appearances as Boris’ girlfriend, Agent AA, and Andy Warhol (aka Agent W). Other (extremely short) celebrity cameos include Lady Gaga (as an alien of course), Tim Burton (according to IMDB), and Howard Stern (supposedly, as it definitely looked like him but no confirmation). Also, Agent Frank (the pug in the other two movies) is not in the movie other than two background appearances on a picture and poster.
A lot of the negative reviews on the film point out the several plot holes in the film. In particular, critics have difficulty getting past the logical inconsistencies of the movie’s version of time travel. For instance, the film gives little to no reason for why Agent J is immune to the alternate universe set by Boris going back and killing K – the idea that because J goes back in time as well is still incompatible as unless K recruits J, then he would not time jump back to save his partner (who would then not really be his partner). Despite this and other inconsistencies, the movie is still fairly easy to take in, as it briskly moves from plot point to plot point like most summer blockbusters do without allowing the audience to reflect upon certain holes. Besides, Men in Black 3 is not a gritty reboot of the series (though this would be an intriguing idea in the vein of Blade Runner), so do not expect a realistic, completely coherent story (especially when it had no complete script through production) and remember to suspend some of your disbelief.
For directing the film without a full screenplay as production began (it required four writers throughout the process), series’ director Barry Sonnenfeld manages to put together a welcome return to a franchise few wanted revived. Josh Brolin injects the film with plenty of energy and a surprising bit of emotion, especially for the series’ most deadpan character. Smith and Jones are at their typically entertaining and charismatic best. It is not a profound, significant return but it is a fairly refreshing and touching, oftentimes nostalgic revival (particularly for viewers who grew up with the series). Men in Black 3 may not persuade everyone that the franchise deserves (m)any more installments, especially since this one goes out on a high, but it definitely made its own case as highly enjoyable summer fare and guilty pleasure. Check it out as a matinee or VOD/rental release and eventually cable marathons with the other two movies.
Men in Black 3 – 7.5/10