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Movie Review: Men in Black III

May 29, 2012
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The good guys, dressed in black, are back. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith return fifteen years after the original Men in Black and a decade after the lackluster sequel. Number three even manages to be closer in quality to its original than its direct predecessor, by finding fresh and inventive ways of revitalizing the blockbuster franchise. Director, Barry Sonnenfeld has regained his grip on presumably final installment of the trilogy and appears fully aware of what worked in the previous pictures and what belonged in the trash all along

The dynamic duo, J and K, are still wandering about New York City, saving the earth on a regular basis, but Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), after forty years on the job, is a bit worn. His cynicism has caught up to him and J (Will Smith) spends his time with his partner wondering where things went wrong for his old mentor. There is a sadness to Jones; if possible he is even more laconic than he once was. His eyes lack a twinkle and he no longer seems quick to lovingly attach nicknames, like “Slick” and “Hoss”, to his eager counterpart, J. He seems regretful, and all J can do is wonder why.

It is a disjointed start to a film in such a series, but fear not, this is not a contemplative film on the sorrows of a life with lingering regrets. Men in Black III is an action-packed, comedy, full of special effects, laughs, and well, more special effects! K’s woes will be dealt with, but not through reflection, instead by defeating an ominous villain in 3-D. The bad guy in round three is ugly, definitely non-human, and extremely unfriendly. Escaped from prison, Boris the Animal (Jermaine Clement) is quick to hold a grudge and relentless on exacting his revenge on his nemesis who severed his arm in battle. His plan is simple: go back in time kill his rival.  Who is his enemy? Why, Agent K, of course.

Boris’ plan initially works. He returns to 1969, murders Agent K and gives Agent J a splitting headache that can only be caused by a temporal fracture in the space time continuum. This headache acts as a clue and indicates to J and the new head of MiB, Agent O (Emma Thompson, I don’t know where Rip Torn went to, but he is missed) that the only way to save the world is to travel back in time and go save K. Agent J sets his time jumper back a day earlier than Boris originally showed up and sets off to rescue a much younger, and livelier Agent K (now played by Josh Brolin).

Taking a franchise that is so reliant on the dynamic between its two leads and swapping out a co-star is beyond risky business. Tommy Lee Jones only spends about 30 minutes total bookending the film. The remaining time, Brolin has the weighted responsibility of embodying Agent K and keeping the film afloat. Miraculously, somehow its works. Josh Brolin not only mimics Jones brilliantly, but breathes new life into K with every wryly delivered line. Apparently, after studying all of Jones’s films, mannerisms and vocal qualities over the course of three months something clicked. Brolin has the same swagger, the same nuances, and the same heartfelt smirk hidden underneath every  apathetic word he mutters. It doesn’t feel like an impersonation, it feels like an accurate extension of the character.

It is rumored the Sonnenfeld shed tears after the first scene was filmed between Brolin and Smith. I can only image that it due to relief. These two share, not only, instant chemistry, but they mesh nearly as well as Jones and Smith did in round one of the series. On top of this, there are plenty of new comical, outrageous, and bizarre aliens along the way. This includes, the previously mentioned mean alien, Boris (Jermaine Clement)  who finds the perfect level of off-kilter, evil, and ridiculous to be great fun. He may actually be my favorite of the Men in Black super villains and he is certainly the creepiest. Also worth noting is Michael Stuhlbarg’s Griffin, who can see infinite futures that are determined by decisions made throughout the film. A fun party trick, but hardly a way to live, Griffin is inexhaustibly wise, but somehow innocent and amiable all the same.  These new additions complement, but never overshadow the real appeal to the franchise: the gadgets, the jokes, a bit of nostalgia and the banter between our two favorite men in black.

In closing, let me tell you this, I will admit that there are problems. Plot details that don’t feel cohesive to the previous installments, the imminent danger that the world is in is a overly skimmed over MacGuffin, and I am still not sure why another romance needs to be introduced (I won’t give spoilers beyond that, but love is in the air), none of these details, however, really matter. Agent J’s nickname is still “Slick”, Agent K gets accurately described as a surly Elvis and there are really quirky aliens races, this time the Bogladites, that could potential annilahite our planet. Oh, and these guys still look good with their Ray-Bans as their neuralize the majority of Manhattan one street corner at a time. What more could you ask for on a Friday night?

 

3 1/2 out of 5 stars. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson, Jermaine Clement, and Michael Stuhlberg. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and brief suggestive content.

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