Tuesday, May 15, 2012

With Men In Black 3, Summer Blockbuster Season Is Officially Off To A (Somewhat Predictable) Start!

The Good: Special effects, Moments of humor, Acting
The Bad: Light on character development, Somewhat predictable
The Basics: When Agent K alters our present in a way that results in an all-out alien invasion, Agent J must return to the 1960s to save the Earth in Men In Black 3!

You know it is summer, officially, when Will Smith turns up with his entry into Summer Blockbuster Season. That’s not to knock Will Smith, who has had many wonderful dramatic and thoughtful comedic roles. But when it comes to summer action-adventure and the somewhat vacuous thrill that comes with special effects-driven movies, it is hard to think of a more significant posterboy for Summer Blockbuster fare than Will Smith. This year, Smith returns to his roots – so to speak – with a sequel to one of the films that helped make Smith the King of Summer Blockbuter Season: Men In Black 3.

Based upon a series of comic books and graphic novels, the Men In Black film franchise made the science fiction comedy a legitimate cinematic genre. And while Men In Black 3 does not hinge entirely upon having seen Men In Black (reviewed here!) or Men In Black II (reviewed here!), it is a worthwhile thing to at least watch the first Men In Black to understand the premise. Barry Sonnenfeld, who directed the first two films returns to direct Men In Black 3. Rather smartly, Men In Black 3 shakes up the routine of the Men In Black movies so it is not simply a reworking of the first film – which is, arguably, how the second film suffered.

As is my custom with movies like this one, it is worth noting that this review is based entirely on the film Men In Black 3. I have not read any of the Men In Black books and I cannot speak to any comparisons or differences to what has been printed in them. Moreover, I prefer to consider Men In Black 3 as a standalone film, as opposed to simply comparing it to the other two films. This is a very pure review of Men In Black 3 as it stands on its own.

Agents K and J are doing their usual work for the Men In Black under the direction of Agent O (Zed having died recently), keeping New York’s streets clean of alien influences. Unfortunately, the alien Lilly stages a jailbreak for Boris, a vengeful alien who K committed to the MIB prison on the moon. Boris returns to Earth to exact revenge upon K and after an attempt to take him down decisively, Agent J returns to the office to learn that K has been dead for over forty years. Alarmed, J sees that K’s death in the past had led to changes in the timeline that are potentially catastrophic, including an alien invasion in J's present.

Using a time travel device, J makes a trip back to 1969 to stop the murder of K in the past and, hopefully, right the timeline. Meeting the young version of Agent K, J drops the pretense of fooling his future partner and explains just what the stakes are. What follows is the adventure between the young version of Agent K and Agent J with the ticking clock: they must stop Boris within twenty-four hours or J will be trapped in the past!

While not all science fiction comedies or time travel movies are like Back To The Future (reviewed here!), Men In Black 3 is. The ticking clock element of Men In Black 3 feels very much like the deadline imposed upon Marty McFly in Back To The Future. It makes some sense for Men In Black 3 to employ such a conceit; otherwise, J could take his time in tracking down and defeating Boris without any sense of urgency. So, despite feeling familiar, having a time limit for J in the past plays out well in Men In Black 3.

Despite having an element clearly intended to increase the action-adventure component, Men In Black 3 utilizes the comedy that made the Men In Black film franchise seem fresh from the outset. Men In Black 3 has Agent J providing fast-talking explanations for what mundane citizens witness when aliens get loose and the Men In Black intervene. The tech utilized by Agent J and the young Agent K is designed with some sense of the comic in mind. The giant bikes – reminiscent of the one-wheel vehicle used by General Grievous in Revenge Of The Sith - look somewhat ridiculous and there are moments in the chase scene where they are used that are delightfully ridiculous.

The new tech is also designed to look good in 3-D. Men In Black 3 uses the 3-D medium surprisingly well. While many 3-D films, where the 3-D is done in post-production, look simply like two flat layers, Men In Black 3 actually utilizes the 3-D in a more effective and convincing way, essentially making one feel for much of the movie like they are looking in on a box. The depth of field is much more consistent with 3-D animated movies and Men In Black 3 looks good as a result. Even though the action scenes are enhanced by the 3-D in Men In Black 3, the movie is not all big action scenes and the 3-D effects simply maintain the hyper-reality of the rest of the film in the exposition scenes.

On the acting front, Men In Black 3 is clearly playing with a stacked deck. While it is merely genius casting that put Josh Brolin on screen as a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones’s Agent K, it is the acting skill of Josh Brolin that pulls it off. Not only does Brolin have the look of Jones, but he effectively mimics the mannerisms and, especially, speech patterns of veteran actor Tommy Lee Jones to become an absolutely convincing facsimile of Agent K. Brolin never feels like an understudy and he makes Agent K seem more well-rounded through his professional background in Men In Black 3.

Emma Thompson makes an auspicious debut in the Men In Black universe and I was wary of Alice Eve playing the younger version of her character, Agent O. The initial casting seems like it would be a pretty simple visual gag; though Alice Eve would be lucky to look as good as Emma Thompson forty years! The only real problem with the two actors sharing the same role is they never conclusively choose which accent they are going with for the character and that seems odd. Otherwise, the two do a decent job of establishing the new head of Men In Black in two different phases of her life.

For his time in Men In Black 3, Tommy Lee Jones does a decent job at playing Agent K. Even so, it is Will Smith who does the heavy lifting on the acting front in Men In Black 3. While Nicole Scherzinger pretty much just shows up in a short, tight outfit and Jemaine Clement plays Boris as an unsettling, angry villain, it is Will Smith as J who must find what heart there is in Men In Black 3. While Smith is adept at the action scenes and he delivers most of the comedic lines well, his stride lacks the confidence he carried in the prior Men In Black movies. Smith seems older and while there are moments where J seems bored with the job, unfortunately, there are moments Smith seems as bored as his character. The result is that some of the potentially funniest moments are negated by Smith’s delivery.

Ultimately, Men In Black 3 is not bad. It is fun and fulfills a sense of exciting escapism that characterizes most of Summer Blockbuster Season’s films. The humor is good, the effects are good and the acting is predictably exceptional. But the film is not intended to be a grand treatise on anything. It is a popcorn movie designed to distract viewers from their daily lives and for two hours, Men In Black 3 does just that.

For other works with Josh Brolin, please check out my reviews of:
Jonah Hex
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
No Country For Old Men


For other movie reviews, please be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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