Men in Black 3 a Pale Reminder of First Film
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2012 25 May
Release Date: May 25, 2012
Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content)
Genre: Action, Sequel
Run Time: 106 min.
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Actors: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Emma Thompson, Michael Stulbargh, Bill Hader
Fifteen years ago, Men in Black hit the screens to rave reviews. A poorly received sequel, Men in Black 2, emerged in 2002. It’s taken 10 years—an eternity in today’s Hollywood—to come up with Men in Black 3. Is it worth the wait? Not really. Should those who fondly remember Men in Black settle for this lackluster chapter in the franchise? No. But in today’s summer-movie culture, where the bar is being ever lowered, Men in Black 3 may be enough for audiences who judge it against Men in Black 2 and other dreadful sequels.
Not nearly as funny or entertaining as the first film, or of some of stars Will Smith (Seven Pounds) and Tommy Lee Jones’ (Captain America: The First Avenger) other performances, Men in Black 3 might barely pass muster if you’re desperate to revisit their franchise characters, Agent J and Agent K. They’re still policing alien life here on earth, “neutralizing” anyone who witnesses something they shouldn’t have seen, and trying to deal with each other’s eccentricities.
This time they’re focused on Boris the Animal (the always amusing Jemaine Clement, Rio), who breaks out of the lunar prison to which he’s been relegated since Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) sent him there decades earlier. The clash between the two of them resulted in the loss of Boris’ arm, but Boris has a plan to get the arm back: He’ll go back in time and prevent the injury from occurring by killing Agent K. The film’s visit to the past includes an enjoyable performance by Josh Brolin (True Grit) as the young Agent K, but as good as Brolin is, the lack of Jones’ presence in the film is a net loss for the franchise. By the time Jones reappears, you could be forgiven for wondering just how much he was paid for so little screen time.
Agent J (Will Smith), who is on-screen throughout Men in Black 3, gets more fawning treatment from director Barry Sonnenfeld. That’s a good thing for lovers of Sonnenfeld’s wild camerawork, as when the director executes an overhead zoom that rushes toward Smith from above, then pivots and lands just in front of the star’s face. It’s a completely unnecessary shot that’s nevertheless a lot of fun. If only credited scripter Etan Cohen (who wrote the riotous, much funnier Tropic Thunder) and his team of contributing writers, including David Koepp, could have matched Sonnenfeld’s energy. I can’t remember a single gag from Men in Black 3, which ought to have delivered at least a few well-timed one-liners for the reliable Smith. Instead, the dialogue just ambles along, as Agent J and Agent K plot to go back in time and confront Boris once again.
The script does offer up a couple of provocative lines, voiced by the weary, crusty Agent K: “Don’t ask something you don’t want to know the answer to,” and, “Do you know what the most destructive force in the universe is? Regret.” But the movie is too cluttered with characters to explore any thematic issues in sufficient depth. For instance, there’s Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg, Hugo), a bizarre character who has the ability to see all future possibilities (except for the possibility that viewers might find him more annoying than amusing). Also, a small role for Nicole Sherzinger early in the film leads nowhere fast, as her character abruptly disappears.
It’s unfortunate that Men in Black 3 doesn’t take the time to wrestle with any philosophical questions. It concentrates most of its energy on some surprisingly good special effects that, while gross in spots, are often more entertaining than the dialogue. A poignant ending is one of the film’s only surprises, but it’s hard to care much about the characters’ personal losses and relationships when the film is most interested in standard summer-movie action.
Better is what the film shows of Sonnenfeld’s filmmaking chops. Sonnenfeld, who started his film career as the cinematographer on the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple, Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing, unleashes some of the visual flair he showed in those films and earlier directorial efforts like The Addams Family and Get Shorty. The string of duds that followed—Wild Wild West, Big Trouble and the aforementioned Men in Black 2—was long enough to make one despair that Sonnenfeld would ever recover the joie de vivre he had shown behind the camera.
Then came ABC’s Pushing Daisies, for which Sonnenfeld served as executive producer and sometime director. A macabre, humorous story about a pie-maker who investigates murders, the program was never a big hit. But in the brief time it aired, Pushing Daisies showed signs that Sonnenfeld’s flair for memorable visual touches was alive and well. The TV series seemed to rejuvenate Sonnenfeld, who brings his trademark visual flourishes back to the big screen in Men in Black 3. (He even “borrows” the fall-from-a-tall-building effect from the Coen Brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy—the first Coen film to be shot by someone other than Sonnenfeld [Roger Deakins, in the case of Hudsucker]).
With Men in Black 3, the franchise reverses its own fall from great heights that occurred with Men in Black 2. But it’s not a sharp enough reversal to justify further chapters (or the higher ticket prices for 3D, which is, as is often the case with today’s movies, superfluous). It’s time for everyone involved—in front of, and behind the camera—to find more stimulating outlets for their talents.
- Language/Profanity: “Oh, God”; “da-n”; “hell”; “bull-it”; “balls”; “nasty a-s piece of s-it”; “pissed off”; “Christ’s sakes”; “big a-s”; “pimp slapping the shizznet”; “screw off”; “sick bas-ard.”
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: None.
- Sex/Nudity: A French kiss with a long tongue; verbal reference to “the Viagrans.”
- Violence/Crime: Alien kills guards; open flesh wounds; guards and others sucked through a hole in a wall; eyeballs in soup; futuristic guns fired, and aliens explode; alien beaten in the head with a pan, another impaled; alien innards removed; characters fall from great heights; character consumed by fire.
- Marriage/Religion: Aliens sing “Amazing Grace” at a funeral.
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