Monday Movie Review: Men in Black 3

After a massively disappointing second film, nobody really expected or wanted a third entry in the sci-fi comedy franchise (that originated as a comic book series, out of interest). However, 10 years after MIB II and 15 years after MIB, everyone who matters has been lured back, including stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, director Barry Sonnenfeld, special make-up effects artist Rick Baker and composer  Danny Elfman. And the end result is... alright. Men in Black 3 is nothing special, but it’s neither insulting to your intelligence nor agonising to watch. If you enjoyed the first 2 films back in the day, you should still find enough to appreciate right here and now in 2012.

MIB3 starts off strongly with a prison break introduction to the film’s villain, Boris the Animal (Flight of the Conchords’ distinctively voiced Jemaine Clement). Immediately the audience is reminded of one of MIB’s greatest strengths: the series’ wonderfully inventive character design. At first glance, Boris is your standard grizzly Hell’s Angel type, but on closer inspection you realise he’s comprised of interlocking claws, fangs and nasty little scuttling critters. Such a pity then that the growling, grimacing Boris is underutilised in the film – confined to maybe 6 scenes when the audience really wants to see him unleash his special brand of anarchy. Or perhaps command a gang of similar extra-terrestrial beasties.

Anyway, Boris is the character driving MIB3’s plot and, out for revenge, he time jumps to 1969 to kill his old nemesis Agent K (a sour-faced, apparently disinterested Jones) and lay the groundwork for an alien invasion. It’s up to K’s partner J (the ever-charismatic Smith) to stop the assassination and preserve our present timeline, so he too travels back into the past. Cue some genuinely funny moments as J encounters 60s racial prejudice, and the audience meets Josh Brolin, who provides an uncanny Jones impersonation while playing the younger, more relaxed K.

For the record, MIB3 seems to be a lot more cartoony and child-safe than its predecessors (at least to my memory), and the film is never laugh-out-loud hilarious. There are dotted servings of amusement, however. It’s always been fun to watch the alien monitoring screens in MIB headquarters, and from Michael Jackson a decade ago they’ve switched their focus to 21st Century celebrity “freaks” like Lady Gaga and Tim Burton. Meanwhile, one of the film’s highlight moments sees 1960s Boris interacting with his 21st Century self – again highlighting a missed opportunity when they don’t really double-team to act out their grand scheme.

What is most surprising about MIB3 though is its amount of heart. Michael Stuhlbarg, evidently channelling Robin Williams in “Whimsy” mode, brings a sense of childlike wonder to proceedings as an alien who can view multiple futures simultaneously and is fascinated with the complexity and potential of the human race. The film also features an unexpected twist which, although predictable from a certain point in the story, is nonetheless still poignant. Pity it’s immediately followed by a dramatically limp final scene that offers no satisfying sense of whether J’s time travelling exploits have altered the present day, and certain characters, at all.

In the end then, Men in Black 3 is a pleasant enough time-passer. It’s not even close to exceptional but it manages to retain an intimate character focus and overall control of proceedings without succumbing to the bloat and frenzied, overblown conclusion that afflicts so many midyear blockbusters. This makes it a perfectly palatable popcorn flick.

3 stars out of 5.


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