Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review of MEN IN BLACK III (2012)

- Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content.
- Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alice Eve
- Written by Etan Cohen, David Koepp, Jeff Nathanson and Michael Soccio
- Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
- Running time: 1hr 45min

It does seem rather odd that 10 years after an unwanted sequel to the blockbuster MEN IN BLACK, that we're getting a third movie.  I don't think anyone was asking for another one.  I liked the first one enough as fluffy entertainment, but thought the 2nd one was terrible.  But since I only saw each one once in the theater (and also with my daughter never seeing either of them) I bought them for 5 bucks a piece at Target and we watched them last weekend.  The first one still holds up, and enjoyed it possibly a bit more, but the 2nd one is still a tired excuse for a sequel.  Now that I got all caught up, I was ready to see the third one, with my expectations being quite low.

The new one begins with J (Smith) and K (Jones) still working together as special agents who monitor aliens living on planet Earth.  J is still bothered by K's lack of passion and his unwillingness to be close friends.  Meanwhile, a super villain, Boris The Animal,  escapes an alien prison on the moon and comes to Earth looking for K, who shot his arm off 40 years ago.  Boris gets a hold of a time travel device and goes back in time to kill K.  He succeeds, as J finds out when he goes into work and no one knows who K is.  Learning from his boss, he discovers what happened.  J then goes back in time to 1969 to stop Boris from killing his partner, and in order to do so, he teams up with a younger agent K (Josh Brolin).

The movie opens with a pretty rousing prison break on the moon, introducing Boris as possibly the most menacing of all the MIB villains.  It's also more violent than I thought it was going to be as Boris shoots spikes out of his hands into victims heads.  It was a good way to start the movie, but then it slows down just a bit.  At first I felt that Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones lacked the energy from the first 2 films, but then I realized that's because they've been Agents for so long, so this approach fit.  We get another fun action set piece set in a Chinese restaurant as K and J battle a smorgasbord of strange creatures.

But the real fun is when we go back to 1969.  The production crew did a great job re-creating the 60's.  And of course, Josh Brolin effortlessly impersonates Jones' K.  His facial expressions (or lack there of) and vocal influctuations are spot on.  He appears to be having a great time.  It's also during these scenes that Will Smith's performance gets more energetic.  There's the typical fish-out-of-water stuff, but it works well enough.  I was also surprised at the strong story arc, at least for an MIB flick.  I read that they began shooting without a finished script, which doesn't really show at all.  If you would have told me that about the second one, I would've believed you cause that was a mess.  But this has a solid story.  It really focuses on the friendship between J and K and why they are who they are.  And there's a great reveal in the film's finale that brings everything from the first movie into full circle, which was really quite touching.  I wasn't expecting that.

Jones is starting to look pretty rough in his old age, but it fits the worn out character.  Smith takes awhile to find his footing, but eventually does.  Brolin is a hoot.  Jemaine Clement is a great villain with his perfectly enunciated snarls.  Emma Thompson has a couple funny moments as the new boss, however Alice Eve is kind of wasted as her younger version in a subplot that doesn't really come together.  The real find of the film is Michael Stuhlbarg (A SERIOUS MAN) as an alien psychic who helps out J and K in 1969, who plays his part with hilarious eccentricity.

The CGI heavy special effects haven't really progressed since the 1997 original, but that's okay.  It gives the movie a kind of retro vibe that keeps it consistent with the series.  Actually, I would say the effects are better than the second, which were embarrassing.  Also, the 3D in this wasn't terrible.  In fact, some of it looked pretty neat and fit with the sci-fi theme of the series.  The post conversion looked better than THE AVENGERS I thought.  Though I'm still not sure it's worth the extra surcharge.  The creature design is pretty amazing as usual, especially when there are scenes with several aliens roaming around, which makes one want to see it again to view all of the different types of monsters.  The action scenes are fun and well crafted.  Liked those cool circle cycle things.  And it was neat to have the finale set at Cape Canaveral.

This isn't nearly as satisfying as something like THE AVENGERS, but it's not trying to be.  Just like the first MEN IN BLACK, this is a breezy popcorn movie that's supposed to entertain you while you're in the theater, then return to your normal lives when it's done.  It's not a movie that will have you thinking about it long afterwards.  Just a nice diversion.  This should satisfy most fans of the series, thought I'm not sure 15 years later if the fan base is that big anymore.  Most kids weren't alive when the first two came out, so it's up to cool parents to get them up to speed before bringing them to this.  My expectations were very low, so I was kind of surprised that I had as much fun as I did.

*** (out of ****)

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