Stars:Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin
Agent J travels in time to MIB's early years in the 1960s, to stop an alien from assassinating his friend Agent K and changing history.
I gotta be honest with you, I cant remember a great deal about the original MEN IN BLACK. I vaguely remember it being watchable, and having a groovy closing scene feauring universes inside universes, but I was a card carying X-FILES kid, and the comedic vibe the film shot for really twisted my melons the wrong way. See, for me, 'Men in Black' were serious fucking business. People to be feared. Not least because I lived in constant fear they'd fuck up my plans of heading to 'Devil Mountain' and having my ass abducted off this war rock we call 'Earth'.
A film that painted these dark and mysterious bastards in comedic tones was not something my none-more-serious persona was willing to accept. So MEN IN BLACK sorta pissed me off. That said, it was a fun film, if you could get over the handling of the subject matter and that godawful Will Smith song that came as part of the package. It was what it was...throwaway Hollywood fluff. Nothing more, nothing less.
I never saw the sequel. I own it, (dont ask me how), but I never got round to watching it.
Im guessing that even those who loved the earlier films werent exactly clamouring for a thrid installment. I mean, its been ten years or so. Will Smith has moved onto more serious roles, and Tommy Lee Jones had apparently left this dimension for a universe more suited to his less than jovial demeanour. The world has changed, kids, so the question is....can a breezy, feelgood film like MEN IN BLACK 3 find its place, in these dark days of Micheal Bay and CLASH OF THE SOMETHING OR OTHER?
Lets be honest, the traditional summer family movie has been suffering of late. Sure, all us grown up kids have plenty to chew on with films like THE AVENGERS and the upcoming, (and perhaps greatest thing ever), THE DARK KNIGHT RISES), but the breezy, lightweight family films have, by and large, been replaced by mega-budget monstrosities that lack any sparkle or magic,(see TRANSFORMERS for more details). The world may not need films like GHOSTBUSTERS, or GREMLINS, but we're all damned glad theyre in existence nonetheless. Blockbusters with heart and soul. Films created with care, with wonder and even with a little heart.
MEN IN BLACK 3 feels like one of those films. Its easy to picture kids finding delight in its non-stop thrills, while it manages to bottle a little emotional depth that all us old fuckers can chew on when we're dragged along. The effects are grand, and often excellent, but the whole focus is on story. You hear that Mr Bay...story!
This installment deals with time travel, and comes off as a riff on BACK TO THE FUTURE filtered through a zany sci-fi lens. The characters still lack real depth, but are given a little more to do this time, than simply run from spot to spot zapping little green men. The time travel element affords director, Sonnenfield, the opportunity to inject a little more adult material into the mix, as much of the film is set in the late 60's. Will Smiths Agent J may look dapper in our time, but a good looking black cat in the 60's driving a flash car and wearing a sharp-ass suit is gonna raise some redneck eyebrows. Sonnenfield cold have gone a little further with the race issue, but its nice to see some topical goodies in there, however fleeting. The kids wont dig it, but they have the cool aliens getting blasted to into kibbles. No, the 60's elements are there for the oldies.
The film features a very funny scene with Andy Warhol, and I believe the scene takes place in the Exploding Plastic Inevitable...Warhols psychedelic drug-inspired arts and music fusion club that helped see the rise of one of rock 'n' rolls greatest bands, THE VEVET UNDERGOUND. We even hear the drug-fuelled epic, I'M WAITING FOR MY MAN play in the background. Now how many kids are gonna grasp that shit? Sonnenfield has realised that the original movies audience are all grown up now, (and most likely drug addicts probably), and has filmed accordingly. It's nice to be noticed, man...
The time travel element also brings us one of the films strongest performances, as Agent J has to team up with a far younger, less jaded version of Tommy Lee Jones' Agent K, played brilliantly by Josh Brolin. Brolins impersonation of Jones is uncanny, and a real highlight of the film. Of course, Brolins take on Agent K means that Tommy Lee is absent from much of the film, but the dudes there in spirit, and the chemistry that he and Smith have carries over into Brolins work. Its good stuff.
Perhaps the best character, if not the best performance, is that of Micheal Stuhlbarg, who plays a multi-dimensional being capable of seeing the outcome of each and every situation through multiple universes, yet is never sure which universe he's inhabiting. His characters gift/curse leads to some of the best laughs, and actually manages to pull on the heartstrings a little. A scene that takes place in a baseball stadium as he muses on quantum theory, actually transcends the material and is both poignant and heartfelt.
The finale goes for the heartstrings too, and pulls it off. Its not THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION we're dealing with here, but damn is it good to see a family film with a little care put into it. Maybe its because I'm a new Dad that it touched me so much, but hell, it worked.
The only possible downside of all this refreshing storytelling is that the action sequences may feel a little lacking to the younger audience. There's no one-hour-long robot battles here, and the villian, (while played well by FLIGHT OF THE CONCORDS' Jemaine Clement) isn't given a great deal to do other than look mean and be chased around by the leads.
I may be being a little jaded here though. There are some eye-popping sequences, not least Agent J travelling through time, which looks just fantastic and is teaming with invention. Also, theres plenty of weird alien wonders to delight the kids. I guess I just dont have too high an opinion of todays kiddies and their taste in cinema. I'm sure when they're my age they'll feel the same way about their kids tastes, so I could be wrong on this front. I'm sure they'll still dig it, but it's most definitly not a mindless effects film in the vein of WRATH OF THE TITANS. It boasts a little more passion than that.
MEN IN BLACK 3 is way better than you may think it is. Its an old-school family fantasy with a new-school glossover. It has a little heart, a little intelligence and a strong story. It won't blow anyones mind and it's no classic, but it's a refreshingly light-hearted and touching popcorn movie that hits all the right marks. Its easily a better film that the original, and is sure to put a smile on your mug and a warm glow in your heart. I say give it a go.
7 Grumpy Old Men out of 10