Part Two of my return blog post today brings you my views on the latest installment in the Sci-Fi comedy franchise Men In Black. The first Men In Black was released in 1997, and still holds up remarkably well today; it remains witty, the chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones still sizzles, the effects still impress and Edgar the Bug is still a frightening villain. It was followed five years later by Men In Black 2 in 2002. That sequel was less successful, the chemistry seemed forced between the two leads, the plot structure essentially recycled the beats of the first movie and they made the fatal mistake of thinking that Lara Flynn Boyle could be sexy. Now, ten years later, we have the third installment. It would be hard for any franchise to come back after such a long break and show that it still has something to give, and aim to atone for the underwhelming sequel. And the production of this installment was far from smooth, as they reportedly began shooting with an unfinished script, breaking half way into filming to deal with the script issues (shooting started in November 2010). But with those problems now put aside, MIB3 aims to achieve a welcome return with the introduction of time-travel to drive the plot along, and it works both in its favor and against it.
Agent J (Smith) and Agent K (Jones) are still partners at the Men In Black, but their relationship is somewhat rocky with K’s refusal to ever open up and share his feelings with J. This matter is not helped by the fact that an intergalactic criminal, Boris the Animal (Flight of the Conchords’ Jermaine Clement) has escaped from a maximum security prison on the Moon, and is hell-bent on revenge against K, who imprisoned him and shot off his arm in 1969. After K’s refusal to discuss the matter of Boris with J, K disappears from modern day altogether, with J being the only one who remembers him. It turns out that a time-fracture has taken place, with Boris the Animal having gone back in time to kill K before he could imprison his younger counterpart, allowing for the new Boris to lead a full-scale invasion upon planet Earth in the new modern day. Therefore, Agent J must travel back in time in order to save his partner and to prevent this invasion from ever happening. Once in 1969, he teams up with the younger version of K (Josh Brolin) to take down Boris the Animal once and for all.
Time Travel is a tricky thing to get right in movies; The Terminator is a great example of a franchise that has got it both spot on and muddled in fair measure. And in MIB3 there are some pretty major plot holes that aren’t particularly addressed, merely written off with one line instead of fully explaining the paradoxes that it develops. But, with a film like this, it really won’t bother you, as director Barry Sonnenfeld clearly has fun playing in a new 60’s themed sand-box. The new period setting gives the film a fresh wave of life, justifying the reason as to why this film exists. The plot clearly understands what didn’t make MIB2 work, and the screenwriters (Etan Cohen is the only one credited, but it has been reported that Jeff Nathanson and David Koepp both contributed to the script during its mid-shoot break). There is a sense, most notably in the untidy opening and shoehorned final act twist involving Agent J, that there may have been too many cooks in the kitchen, but once it hits the 60’s period it truly finds its stride (the scenes with Andy Warhol’s Factory are a particular highlight).
Removing Tommy Lee Jones from the equation may seem like a very bold and risky move, considering one of the greatest successes from the first movie was the chemistry between Smith and Jones, but once you see this film you will realise that it makes perfect sense. A large part of that is down to the casting of Josh Brolin as the young K. It is the pinnacle of perfect casting, Brolin inmitates Jones down to a tee, not just in his weirdly similar looks, but also through his voice and mannerism. Yet, he also adds a new element to K, as he is playing K before he has become a grizzly old man filled with regret, here he is a young man taking on one of the coolest jobs in the galaxy. Smith plays just as perfectly alongside Brolin as he did with Jones, still proving he has that true Hollywood charisma, despite not having been in a film since 2008’s Hancock. The audience has great fun following Smith through 60’s New York, as his 90’s mannerisms clearly don’t make sense to anyone and as he copes with blending in to the past.
Much like Prometheus, this is a film which has near flawless production design, and this once again comes from the imaginative alien designs from Rick Baker. Jermaine Clement performance may be restricted under all his prosthetic’s, but Boris the Animal remains a decidedly nasty piece both in nature and appearance. He doesn’t quite match up to the grisly glory that was Edgar, but he is most definitely a step up from Flynn Boyle’s Serleena from the second movie. Baker also clearly has fun within the 60’s setting, creating a plethora of retro-looking aliens, respectably referencing alien B-movies of the 1950’s and 60’s. The Men In Black movies have always been ones of subtle creative brilliance, with most of the aliens simply acting as extras, and MIB3 is not different, allowing the audience to have a lot of fun spotting all the new creatures and pop culture references injected into the surroundings.
While no one may have really asked for a new Men In Black movie, it is a joy to say that this third installment is a light and highly enjoyable piece of entertainment. It doesn’t come close to matching the gritty, cynical energy of the first movie, but it certainly deletes the memory of MIB2 , like a well-tuned neuralyzer. Sonnenfeld also reminds us that he is a director with a very clear and bright visual vision, and employs 3-D to great effect (if you’re afraid of heights, you may find some scenes rather uncomfortable). More importantly though, he hits the right notes of nostalgia whilst also supplying something new and fresh to inject new life in to a once thought dead franchise. Growing up with the MIB movies, I had high hopes that this would be good, and it is consistently enjoyable, never once does the pace slack, leading up to the frenetic, but slightly convoluted (in terms of the time travel) final act. It is much more consistent than MIB2, which certainly had its moments, just too few and far in-between. What is incredibly refreshing about this installment though, is that it is a film that knows what it is and what it is setting out to do; to entertain. Take note, Prometheus, this may not be a film with something to say, but it clearly knows what its audience wants, and delivers it with bright, breezy Sci-Fi glee. Now, if we can just forget that Pitbull song, we’d be absolutely fine.
4/5- To compare it to the first film, it would be a three star movie, but compared to the second it would fall on four, so why the hell not give it that? It is a fun, well-paced and colourfully designed return to form for the franchise, with a terrific performance from Brolin. It feels good to be back in black.