Movie Review: MEN IN BLACK 3
Did you know they made a third Men in Black movie? You could be forgiven if you didn’t. I barely did, and I pay an inordinate amount of attention to this stuff. In fact, the only reason I knew MIB3 was happening is because Sony announced its development in more or less the same breath as they announced Ghostbusters 3 was also in development.* Then I stopped hearing about it, then I saw a trailer around Christmas, and then I read an article about what a clusterfuck the production was.
I honestly had no idea it came out this week. I don’t watch “traditional” (i.e. non-DVR) television anymore, but I still get Hulu stuffing the same shit down my throat over and over every five minutes when I try to watch a show on there, or YouTube at the head of every video, and I drive around L.A. so I see billboards. I sure as hell knew when Max Payne 3 and Diablo 3 and Battleship were coming out in the last couple weeks. Shit, I was even tracking on Dark Shadows. But it seems as though, for some reason, Sony is burying their first big tentpole of the season.
Which is a shame, because Men in Black 3, despite its apparently rocky development and production, manages to be a fun, engaging, and generally not insulting sequel — everything, in other words, that Men in Black 2 was not.
It still has its rough spots — the first act, before Will Smith’s Agent J travels back in time (spoiler? I guess? Meh, it was in the trailer) is particularly agonizing. Tommy Lee Jones — who has not aged well, and their attempts to make him up only make it worse — is phoning in his three days of shooting something fierce, and Smith’s “aw damn, shit be crazy” schtick hasn’t aged much better than Jones’ face. It’s especially off-putting because J has now been an agent of the MIB for fourteen years — a figure they mention repeatedly — and while J and K’s failure to develop a proper rapport in all that time becomes a (fridge logic-y) plot point, it doesn’t make sense for J to still react to the strange things other agents do or say as if he’s still just a few weeks into the job. That’s his “normal” now. Has been for a decade and a half. He should, if anything, have trouble relating to non-MIB people when he goes back in time.**
I would have been super interested in seeing what kind of Senior Agent J has matured into, but of course the studio penguins resurrect latent cash cow franchises to try to bring back some of the old magic, not to make new magic.
The film starts to pick up once J goes back and hooks up with the young Agent K, played to a T by Josh Brolin. As he showed in his star turn in Oliver Stone’s W,*** Brolin has a knack for characterization that transcends mere impersonation, and he manages to play Tommy Lee Jones playing Agent K while somehow still making it his own. If nothing else, Brolin makes this film worth watching, and once the plot really gets in motion it’s an engaging ride to the climax. It muddles around a bit in the denouement but not enough to ruin the goodwill the film had built with me by then.
Some happy surprises for me included: the movie demonstrating a basic competence with regard to how light-years work; Bill Hader making a cameo as Andy Warhol in a surprisingly highbrow bit of satire; and a plotline involving the MIB and Apollo 11 that does not entail them faking the whole thing. I also liked them trying to do something with the relationship between J and K. It doesn’t really land, probably because they were making it up as they went along, but I’m gonna go ahead and give them a gold star for trying.
It’s not brilliant, it wasn’t necessary, and it definitely starts to fall apart under scrutiny. The pacing flags in some places, especially during “funny” bits, where I felt like I was sensing attempts to fill screen time on days without script pages.**** But all that said, and surprisingly given its road to the screen, Men in Black 3 is an overall enjoyable, entertaining, even occasionally exciting way to spend 100 minutes of your time — and it’s a rare tentpole movie and even rarer sequel I can say that about these days.
* I just checked to be sure, and no: they did not also release Ghostbusters 3 without anyone noticing.
** It’s perhaps to the film’s credit the low-hanging fruit of fish-out-of-water “J in the 60s” wackiness is eschewed. (Although come to think of it, it might have been funny for J to travel back expecting to be a fish out of water, but discovering all our modern technology existed within the MIB already.) We do get a neuralyzer the size of an MRI machine and jetpacks the size of Volkswagens, but the movie simply presents them as period technology and moves along.
*** Jesus. It’s like a can of alphabet soup blew up in that paragraph.
**** But then again, Family Guy is nothing but bits that drag on and on and people eat that shit up, so maybe that’s just what passes for comedic timing in 2012. The Mayans were right.