28 May 2012

MEN IN BLACK 3- Review

There's a telling moment in Men in Black when Will Smith's J asserts that people are smart enough to be told about the existence of aliens, and Tommy Lee Jones' K grouchily corrects him. "A person is smart", he drawls, "People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it." It's a line that sums up the funny, cynical world that the film established, and shows just how lacking Men in Black II was, as a film that seemed made by committee.

Ten years later, after a whole bunch of production horror stories and what seems like a near-constant rotation of the first two films on terrestrial telly, we have Men in Black 3, a film that is still, to a large extent, missing that spark that made the first film so special. At least there's a better villain than in the first sequel, in the shape of Boris the Animal, a psychopathic Boglodite who languishes in MIB's lunar prison after being arrested by K. He and his partner J are still policing alien activity on Earth when Boris escapes prison, travels back in time and kills a younger K, leaving J with 24 hours to correct the course of history and save his partner.

The worst I can really say about this belated third instalment is that it's not nearly as bad as you would think, given all the behind-the-scenes trouble. As the story goes, Will Smith pitched the idea for the third film to series director Barry Sonnenfeld during the production of Men in Black II. After a lengthy development process, the film still went into production without a finished script, and even paused principal photography halfway through in order to finish the script. It sounds like it should be a disaster, and I reckon it's a testament to Sonnenfeld as a director that it's not a complete dud.

The first 20 minutes feels like the franchise has been warmed over a bit, but things perk up slightly once the time travel part of the plot kicks in. This is the section of the film in which we see the two standout elements- Josh Brolin and Michael Stuhlbarg. The latter plays Griffin, an alien who guides our heroes through the complications of time travel by his ability to see all possible eventualities from their various interventions in history. He could've been hugely annoying, but Stuhlbarg is a terrific actor, and he turns in a very winsome, funny and sweet performance.

Brolin, on the other hand, elevates his role far beyond an admittedly uncanny impression of Tommy Lee Jones, but also makes the role of K his own, to some extent. He's a little surly, sure, and tough, definitely, but as the film is so centred around K's backstory, there's a lot of comedy bits for Brolin to chew on too. The bottom line is, if you have to have as little of Jones as we do in this film, at least Brolin easily makes up for it. He makes the whole 1960s section of the film more than just an Austin Powers rehash, if not a whole lot more than that, and covers up some of the fractures nicely.

This is one of those films where you can practically see the join between different versions of the script, or, in this case, the part that they filmed up to before halting production to fix the rest of the plot. Early contrivances about chocolate milk and time-jumping seem very ramshackle, which is precisely what you don't want from a film about the complications of time travel. You can definitely get away with that if it's well written, and reaches a satisfying conclusion for the characters, (see Back to the Future's various plotholes) but Men in Black 3 emphatically doesn't.

To his credit, Will Smith is an enormously charismatic and, apparently, hugely adaptable performer, who rides through most of the production turmoil as the constant. Regardless of the fact that his character has basically gone through the same journey three times in three films, and the way in which the audience may share his consternation that after 14 years, there are still secrets being dreamt up and kept from him, he generally comes out of it pretty well. After starting out the series with so much potential, it feels like Sonnenfeld has been reluctant to develop the world established in the first film. Even after 15 years and three movies, they've reached further backward than forward, especially in retconning K's retirement from the first film.

Men in Black 3 is not the vision of a smart person, but a film made by committee, which frequently lapses into dumb and panicky contrivances around its muddled time travel plot. With a whole universe of magnificent Rick Baker creatures to explore, 1960s America isn't the arena most would like to have explored, especially when the ultimate resolution makes so little sense in itself. If MIB4 takes 20 years to reach cinemas, maybe they'll finally do something new with it.

Men in Black 3 is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Men in Black 3, why not share your comments below? Having not seen the 3D version, I can't say either way if this is "the best-looking 3D movie ever" (so Sonnenfeld says), but I can vouch that Rick Baker's alien effects and Bill Pope's cinematography look pretty good in 2D.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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