Saturday, May 26, 2012

Movie Review: Men in Black 3

At one point in his career Will Smith was releasing yearly summer blockbuster hits with such reliability that he earned the nickname “Mr. July”. These days though, that title seems less accurate. Think about it, his last summer action release was Hancock: FOUR YEARS ago. While still able to turn a profit with his mere presence, the man hasn’t really been a ubiquitous summer star since I, Robot.

So it’s perfectly natural that Smith would want to make something to remind people of his career's glory days and perhaps reclaim his crown. But making a sequel to one of his old hits ten years after the fact strikes me as pretty desperate. I mean what’s next? Bad Boys 3? Wild Wild West 2? Independence Day 2
? (Ok, actually that last one might kinda rock) And worse still, he didn’t even bother to release a single for the soundtrack this time. I mean come on dude, I know you haven’t made an album in seven years, but honestly! It used to be even when Will Smith made a bad movie you still got a kick-ass music video to go with it. Instead we get...Pitbull. Ugh.

But anyway, let’s get to the point: Is Men in Black 3 any good? could’ve been worse I guess. Sure, it’s uninspired, frequently dull and adds nothing to the franchise, but at the very least it’s not nearly as blatant a retread as Men in Black 2. For one thing, it resists the urge to bring back every minor character from the first film for a bigger role. Jack Jeebs? Not in it. The worms? Nowhere to be seen. Frank the Pug? We see his picture once, but that's it. And thank Zarquon they didn’t have the entire movie be revealed to have taken place in a snow globe or something just for another pointless recreation of the ending of the first one. Though that’s not to say they’re completely over milking old jokes. Remember that old gag where they’d reveal that certain infamously weird celebrities were really aliens in disguise? Well, guess who they pull that on this time. Come on, guess. You’re never gonna guess, I mean it’s not like it's the most dumbfoundingly obvious joke you could possibly make it today’s culture. Come on, guess! GUEEEESSS!!

Take me to your leader.
But the best decision they made was to bring in Josh Brolin as the younger Agent K. The biggest thing dragging Men in Black 2 down was the fact that bringing Tommy Lee Jones back was a huge mistake. His character had already completed his arc the first film, and after pointlessly dragging him back into the franchise, the chemistry between the two actors just felt forced. It’s only gotten worse in this film, Tommy Lee Jones could not more obviously NOT wanna be here if they’d brought him onto the set at gunpoint. Which is why it's a relief when he exits the movie and is replaced by Brolin, who is easily the best performance of the film. Sure all he's doing is a strikingly good Tommy Lee Jones impression, but he has such good chemistry with Smith that there are moments when they actually remind you why you loved the first film so much. Briefly. For like, five seconds maybe. I mean, it still doesn’t justify the existence of this movie, but it’s something at least.

Another welcome presence is Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin, an alien who can read the future. Sure his joke of “I predict things half a second before they happen” does wear a little thin, but he’s a good enough actor to keep things fresh. Plus, he manages to make the character rather endearing, and he never comes across as a blatant clone of anyone we’ve seen in these movies previously.

But while those two are definitely points in the film’s favor, pretty much everything else falls flat. Will Smith is still a talented guy, but he’s really phoning it in here. The jokes are stale, the kind of humor that you chuckle at occasionally almost out of obligation, and then completely forget. The villain is just as generic & boring as last time, and by the way, who’s idea was it to cast the guy from Flight of the Conchords as an alien Dog the Bounty Hunter? Alice Eve’s character has way too little to do and her romance subplot with Agent K is utterly superfluous. The plot feels like they took an episode of the Men in Black animated series and tried to stretch it out to feature length. And worst of all the time travel gimmick leads to a retcon element to Agent J’s backstory that only exists to shoehorn in more damn predestination Hero’s Journey bullshit, because apparently Hollywood screenwriters can’t live without that stuff.

The time travel device that’s powered by jumping off buildings is a neat idea & leads to some mildly eye-pleasing visuals, but mostly just exists to give the 3D some reason to be there. If you're sick of going to see The Avengers again week after week, or if you just really want to see what an Austin Powers movie would be if it had aliens and was even less funny, it might be worth a matinee, but personally I’d pass.

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