Saturday, 2 June 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Men in Black 3

It’s fair to say that not many people spent the last ten years waiting for Columbia to release another Men in Black movie. However, now the suited alien investigators have returned to our screens, and I’m very pleased that they have. MIB3 has received some very mixed reviews; Charlie Jane Anders at i09 hilariously suggested that Battleship was the better movie of the summer, which just goes to show how low some people’s opinion of MIB3 is.

It’s certainly true that the movie takes few steps to differentiate itself from its older brothers. The titles and music stick to the style of the earlier two movies; the same two leads begin the film doing pretty much the same things they did throughout MIB2. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones step back into their roles that you’d think that only a couple of years had passed, not ten. While neither actor seems to put a great deal into his performance, they don’t really need to; they can clearly pick it up as if MIB2 was yesterday. However, there is evidence that time has passed. The characters have been allowed to grow older, J feeling the strain, K withdrawing further and becoming more jaded than ever. So, some things have moved on. Z is dead, and Agent O has taken his place as head of the MIB. The Worms are still present, but Frank the Pug has seemingly moved on to the big magazine stand in the sky. Pleasingly, that same guard sits in his chair reading the paper every time J enters the building, so some things really do never change (barring history-altering time travel).

The film begins with an energetic scene at a secret prison on the Moon, to which the MIB send their most unmentionable undesirables. It’s a visual treat, and gets the film off to a rollicking start. The big star of the sequence is Nicole Scherzinger’s chest - enjoy it while you can, it won’t be there for long (likewise, anyone going for the much-publicised cameos by the like of Lady GaGa should be careful not to blink). Scherzinger lives just long enough to break the villain of the piece free from his lunar gaol. Boris the Animal makes for a memorable villain. The sheer genius of casting Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement as the sinister, brutal space villain accounts for much of the character’s success. Clement veers from reasonably subtle to completely OTT, bringing the monster to life via a vocal impression of Tim Curry. Boris is a work of horrible art, comprised of a lattice of clawed fingers interlocking to create a humanoid biker beast, equipped with some kind of symbiotic spine-flinging organism as a handy weapon. His various appendages make for some pretty disquieting visuals, but the kids in the audience didn’t seem to mind.

Boris is the last of the Boglodites, a rapacious species that swarm from planet to planet, stripping them clean, locust-like (or Nimon-like, if you’re a Who fan). Boris’s story is more personal, though; he has a vendetta with K, the man who imprisoned him, dooming his race to starvation, and took his arm in the process. This personal side sets the film apart from its flash-bang predecessor, and extends to J, who has cause to re-evaluate his upbringing and relationship with K, who is himself explored to a greater depth than before.

The time travel element also keeps things fresh. It’s not a particularly original approach to the genre; Boris jumps back to kill K in the past before he is defeated, leaving J the only one who (inexplicably) recalls his existence. J must then travel back slightly further, in an attempt to kill Boris first. It’s in bringing in the younger K that the approach excels. Josh Brolin is the real star of this film, giving an uncannily convincing performance that echoes Jones’s peculiar delivery perfectly. This version of K displays some of the old version’s grumpiness and cynicism, but is an altogether happier, more relaxed, more open individual. He shares something of a romance with O (sadly not given much good material in the past, which means Alice Eve fails to get a chance to impress, while Emma Thompson as the older O is quite memorable). Much of the plot goes towards exploring what came to change K so much.

Once in the past and with J and K teamed up again, the plot is pretty standard, a very lightweight spaceman detective case livened up by some pretty effective action scenes. A standout sequence at the Factory, featuring Andy Warhol is far funnier than it has any right to be, introduces the final character of note. Griffin, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, has so much of a young Robin Williams that I half expected to learn he was from Ork. He’s actually a five-dimensional Arcadian - not that you could tell by looking at him - and he’s the most affable alien to date. His ability to see all potential futures opens up some unusual directions for the plot, keeping the time travel element prominent throughout, and is also, perhaps, a sly acknowledgement of the fact that the script was being rewritten even as filming was underway. I don’t think that the nature of the scripting process would be obvious if we didn’t already know about it, although it’s tempting to wonder how the original ending might have run. Although what we get is fairly effective, it’s a little dissatisfying and confused, and it’s tempting to think that it’s the remnants of an earlier, more effective conclusion.

The final showdown between J, K and the duplicated Boris is overlong but successful, utilising time-hopping to some effect (and anyone who doesn’t spot the relevance of the date - 19th July 1969 - should be ashamed). Several of the effects sequences seem designed to take advantage of the 3D craze, particularly J’s time jump (I saw it in 2D, so I can’t speak for the effectiveness of this approach). Overall though, the visuals are excellent, with some truly great designs. The Sixties MIB works perfectly, with its rows of typists and fashionably retro-futuristic equipment; indeed, the MIBs look more at home in the Sixties than they do in the present. The alien designs are, on the whole, excellent, with the retro extraterrestrials of ‘69 harking back to the B-movie era, when fishbowl helmets and silver spacesuits were in vogue. A couple of them seem to have stepped straight out of The Outer Limits. Not all the sequences work, however; the altered-future Boglodite invasion is very stilted, in spite of the nice ship designs, and the loopy motorbike chase doesn’t work as well as it should.

If the film has a failing, though, it’s that it really isn’t that funny. There are few, if any, laugh-out-loud moments, although it’s chucklesome throughout. Still, the storyline holds together for the most part, and it’s witty enough to keep it entertaining, whilst ensuring that we care about the main characters. So no, it’s not as good as the first film, now fourteen years old and still ahead of the pack when it comes to sci-fi comedies. However, it’s a huge improvement on the second, stands up well enough for new viewers too young to remember the earlier instalments, and is very a welcome continuation for this fan. However, if they do make a fourth, it’s probably time to assign some new agents to keep the franchise fresh.


  1. i didnt like this movie. nothing fresh in the story. i really disappointed abt this movie. we have watched all these kind of stories before in a movie. still dont understand how its getting mixed to positive

    1. Fair enough. I agree that it's lacking in anything fresh - the only new thing in the mix is the time travel and that's approached in a very cliched way. I still enjoyed it though, for what it was. Most of the opinions I've read are mixed, with a handful of more positive one like mine, and quite a few very negative ones like yours.

  2. I really enjoyed it, possibly because I didn't expect anything else. Just a fun film.

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