Men in Black 3 B-
It’s good to see Will Smith’s Agent J and Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K together again, even if the central idea of “Men In Black 3″ is not as fresh, ingenious, and entertaining as most fans would have liked it to be.
Many franchises face the same dilemma after the first, and especially the second installment: How to invigorate, or at least maintain the momentum of, a series that have captured the imagination of millions of viewers.
You may recall that when “Men in Black” was released, July 2, 1997, it was fresh, cool, and funny, which may explain its critical acclaim (91 percent positive reviews, according to Rotten Tomatoes meter) and commercial success. Five years later, on September 6, 2002, “Men in Black 2″ was released to dismissive response (only 39 percent of the reviews were positive) but still box-office success (it grossed $190.4 million in the U.S.).
Always a high-concept series, “Men in Black 3″ doesn’t escape entirely the third-chapter problem of other series, though it’s a testament to the abundant charm of Will Smith, the cool yet grounded approach of Tommy Lee Jones, and the strong chemistry between the vastly different actors that the new chapter is sporadically funny, relying more than the previous chapters on visual gags, some good action set-pieces, and plenty of CGI.
Agent J has witnessed seen some bizarre, inexplicable events in his 15 years with the Men in Black, but he is still perplexed by his reticent partner, who’s veiled in mysteries.
Turning point occurs, when K’s life, not to mention the very fate of the planet, are put at risk. To save both, Agent J needs to travel back in time to put things right.
Though working together for a long time, and spending quality time together, you never really get to know your co-workers—until there is a state of crisis.
Early on, the character of Zed has died and K gives a eulogy, but one that provides no information about him, despite the fact that Zed was supposedly his best friend for 45 years. It makes J realize that, after all these years, he knows next to nothing about his partner.
This premise, which serves as the foundation for the story, coincides with the escape of an alien, Boris the Animal, that K put away 40 years ago, in 1969 to be exact, and now he’s scarily coming back for payback on K.
It begins to bother J that there are secrets K has never told him about his identity and his past life. And the only way to unveil the secrets is to go back in time and team with K as a youngster, which means interacting with a third, much needed character, played by Josh Brolin.
It’s been a whole decade since the Men in Black were last seen protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe.
The producers (Spielberg among them) and executive producers (Walter Parkes and MacDonald) must have realized that the franchise is running out of ideas and that they need to come up with a new conceit in order to please the fans.
And thus, the time warp scheme is exploited by writer Ethan Cohen in every which way so that Agent J can save his longtime partner, the agency, and, if this is not enough, the very future of humankind.
Will Smith is now at the prime of his career, and he has proven that he can carry on his solid shoulders all kinds of generic movies. As a movie star, Agent J has been one of his signature roles, and reportedly also one of his favorite ones.
The generation difference between the fortysomething Smith and the sixtysomething Lee Jones have always worked to an advantage in the previous segments, because the two thespians subscribe to different school of acting. The addition of a third character is very much welcome, even if he is not as fully developed.
Even so, Josh Brolin makes the most of what he is given, rendering a sly, smart performance as Young K that channels, but doesn’t overly imitate Jones’ gestures and mannerisms, thus making the character his own.
As a result, we get two sets of relationships, a contemporary one between J and K, which is just as contentious and affectionate as it has been before, and a new one, set in the past, which tries, though not always successfully, to explain the origins of their relationship and its lasting power.
Emma Thompson rounds out the lead cast as O, the new head of the MIB, taking over for the recently departed Zed, who may recall was always irritable. I doubt if in 1997, or in 2002, the filmmakers would have cast a woman as the head of the powerful organization, but times have changed.
The baddie, Boris the Animal, is played by Jemaine Clement (HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords”), who imbues his part with imposing physicality and nuanced delivery, punctuated by a stilted and a bizarre laugh. (At one point in the film, the Boris of 2012 meets the Boris of 1969).
Michael Stuhlbarg turns in a commanding performance as Griffin, a nervous alien with soft spot for the underdogs of human history.
The cast is also peppered with cameo performances, including Bill Hader, who turns in a memorable scene as Andy Warhol, when J and K crash The Factory in 1969.
Understandably, so much has changed in American pop culture and Hollywood that the men’s iconic imagery—dark suits and shades—is not as cool or inventive as it was 15 years, when the first “Men in Black” was the epitome of cool.
Production values are top notch, courtesy of an extremely gifted crew behind the cameras, such as seven-time Oscar-winner (including one for “Men In Black”) Rick Baker designing the aliens; five-time Oscar-winner Ken Ralston and Jay Redd supervising the visual effects; cinematographer Bill Pope, who shot the “Matrix” movies and “Spider-Man 2” and “3”; production designer Bo Welch, who created the futuristic world of the Men in Black in 2012 and the retro-futuristic world of 1969.
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