Men in Black 3 (Barry Sonnenfeld, 2012) B+
The amount of excitement I had going into the latest film in the Men in Black series can be summed up by the fact that I chose to just read a quick synopsis of the first two films rather than watch them again in preparation. I’ve never been a huge fan of the series (the first film is fun but disposable, the second an abomination) and didn’t think it warranted one sequel, let alone two. But as we’ve learned in recent years, when a movie does as much box office as this series has, it’s not if sequels will be made, but when. However, Men in Black 3 took me by complete surprise, a fun, gross, and sometimes actually moving little film that is probably the most pleasant surprise I’ve had in a movie theater this year.
Smith is back as Agent J, who is forced to go back in time to try to prevent Agent K’s (Tommy Lee Jones) death at the hands of a villain from his past (a completely unrecognizable Jemaine Clement), who himself has gone back in time and killed K, erasing him from everyone’s memory except for J’s. That’s about the most I’m willing to try to summarize the plot, because its time travel logic does tend to get a bit wonky at times.
I like Will Smith. I really do. He’s fantastic in The Pursuit of Happyness, Enemy of the State, Ali, etc. But I’ve never been so taken out of a movie by a performance like I was by his here. Every single facial tic, line of dialogue, whatever, is ridiculously overdone and cheesy. Jemaine Clement as the villain was not scary at all, though I think that blame rests more on the one-dimensional-ness of the character rather than his performance. The rest of the cast, however (aside from Jones, who, for the short time he appears in the film, seems to wish he could be anywhere else), does a great job with the across-the-board weird characters they get. I’d like to get a DNA test on Josh Brolin to find out if he’s in some way related to Jones, because he nails every single aspect of him; speaking cadence, expressions, even his accent. I found myself at times wondering if maybe they did go back in time to make young Tommy Lee Jones play this role, it’s that dead-on. Bill Hader as Andy Warhol (but actually an undercover MiB agent) is funny with his few lines (when is he not?). But A Serious Man‘s Michael Stuhlbarg is easily the standout as Griffin, an inter-dimensional being who is able to perceive all realities at all times, something that is mostly a burden, but also provides one of the film’s most moving moments, late night at Shea Stadium.
One of the most interesting things about the movie was the amount of earnest sentimentality it employs. Along with the scene at Shea, there’s also a beautiful little monologue Brolin gives in a diner about his relationship with O (Emma Thompson in the present, Alice Eve in the past) and a truly heartbreaking scene near the end of the film. It’s a tactic I can’t remember Sonnenfeld employing in the first two films, and it manages to work fantastically each time.
I would be remiss to not mention Rick Baker’s monster creations; the man is a living legend, and his work here is just as good as it’s always been. The way the time travel is animated is quite interesting, and not something I’ve seen before. I’d be curious to know if another film has employed this tactic (J has to jump off the roof of a massive building, and as he falls he is taken through all different periods of time in quite short succession) in the past.
Fortunately, the slight confusion I had at times, as well as the occasional easy jokes (Lady Gaga is an alien, ha ha) and one or two bad performances didn’t do anything to diminish the amount of fun I had with this movie. While I can’t say I’ll be looking forward to a fourth one, the idea of it certainly doesn’t bother me.