Men in Black 3, Reviewed.Essays, Film — By Mike Radcliffe on July 26, 2012 at 10:08 am
The easiest way for me to recommend Men in Black 3 (which opened yesterday) is to say that the queasy feeling I had in my stomach ten years ago while watching Men in Black 2 was completely absent. I laughed. I didn’t check my watch (phone). It kept me in my seat and amused for its running time. Unfortunately, what I can’t say about the film is that it captured the giddy excitement I felt fifteen years ago watching Men in Black for the first time, the entertaining electricity of Will Smith’s late 90′s hipness and the innovative, eye-catching special effects which out-stripped his previous alien blockbuster Independence Day. It’s the trilogy’s middle film in overall quality.
The film opens with the utterly weird and off-putting villain Boris “The Animal” (Jemaine Clement; yes, him) whose escape from prison and subsequent time travel set the film in motion when he goes back to 1969 and kills (junior) Agent K. Agent J must of course do the same in order set things right. It becomes Smith’s movie from that point on, even though the events are ostensibly about K. Most of the film features Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, W.) doing an impression of Tommy Lee Jones (a really good impression) as a younger man. It almost seems like Jones, 66, didn’t want to do the physical work of an action movie and so they came up with a time travel plot in order to shoehorn in a younger actor playing the same character. If so, the incidental nature of the plot doesn’t seem undercooked, but rather adds a new, um, dimension to MIB storytelling.
Going to 1969 of course means a chance for to put all kinds of freaks and tweaks onscreen, but fortunately the film doesn’t try to squeeze too many jokes out of the hippies-are-weird-kind-of-like-aliens box. There (then?) we are introduced to my favorite character in the film, a sweet-natured fifth-dimensional being named Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg) who, like Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen, can see all possible permutations of time and space–past and future–at once. I couldn’t help but imagine that Stuhlbarg was selected for his character from A Serious Man, as though he had been fused with his enormous theoretical physics chalkboard explaining Schrödinger’s cat and transmuted into a sillier character no less put upon by cosmic improbabilities beyond his control. His character accompanies J and K in their attempts to keep things from going to hell–a possibility frequently hinted at by the functionally psychic alien. Even though he sometimes functions plot-wise as a kind of deus ex persona, he brings an extra twist of utter alien-ness to the film that kept things interesting for me.
The film ends with an epic confrontation between good guys and bad, of course, but this time it’s on top of the Apollo 11 rocket right as it’s about to take off. How things wrap up isn’t as important as the fact that, despite falling short of the original, director Barry Sonnenfeld and team have kept things mostly funny, sometimes unsettling, and deeply weird. When it comes to a Men in Black movie, that’s all we’re really asking for.