Men in Black 3 (2012)

Men in Black 3 (2012) – Sequels are not necessarily a case of diminishing returns. While there is definitely plenty of hollow retreads like The Hangover Part II, there also flicks like The Godfather Part II, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and [technically] The Silence of the Lambs. Loosely based on a comic by Lowell Cunningham, 1997’s Men in Black was a surprising comedy that was filled with action and even a little heart. It was a huge success and cemented Will Smith’s status as a blockbuster movie star. Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and director Barry Sonnenfeld (along with a bunch of the supporting cast) returned for 2002’s Men in Black II. It was most definitely a case of diminishing returns. Quite frankly, the movie sucked. Plus it was plagued with last-minute reshoots after the September 11th attacks rendered the World Trade Center-set finale somewhat insensitive. Anyway, it established that one Men in Black movie was probably enough. But despite sucking (and most people did agree it sucked) the movie still made a bunch of money due to brand recognition (the reason so many sequels get made). Now Men in Black 3 is rolling out: more diminishing returns or a shot at redemption for the series?

Zed’s dead, baby. (Couldn’t resist that one.) Likely owing to Rip Torn’s recent legal troubles, his mentor character has been killed off between movies. Agent J (Smith) is worried that his partner Agent K (Jones) won’t deliver much a eulogy. He’s right. Things seem strained between the two men who, even in the best of times, have an odd dynamic. After Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), a dangerous alien from K’s past, breaks out of prison K seems even more agitated and taciturn than usual. J wakes up one day to find out from the boss, Agent O (Emma Thompson), that K has been dead since the late 1960s. Cue the time travel. In the past, J soon encounters the younger version of Agent K (the 40-something Josh Brolin amusingly playing 29 to suggest that K was never REALLY young). While most of his K mannerisms are still in place, younger K is more laid back than his more senior counterpoint, prompting J to ask “what happened to you, man?” K merely replies “Don’t know; it hasn’t happened yet.”

Watching Brolin absolutely nail all of Tommy Lee Jones’s mannerisms is a big part of the movie’s appeal. Jones is present in the beginning and the end but spends most of the movie absent due to the nature of the plot. Brolin’s presence fills that void so well it’s like Jones is barely gone. In fact Brolin brings a livelier take on the character that is more welcome in this film than Jones’s even-more-dour-than-usual scenes. Clement is also good as the villain, who angrily insists “It’s JUST Boris!” every time someone calls him Boris the Animal. Michael Stuhlburg (of A Serious Man and Boardwalk Empire) does well in an expository role that is part comic relief and part pathos that could have been REALLY annoying in a lesser actor’s hands. There are a lot of amusing 60s jokes, including an appearing by Andy Warhol (Bill Hader). The film also doesn’t shy away from J encountering some of the racism still upsettingly prevalent in the late 1960s. The movie doesn’t dwell on it too long, but it’s good not to see the issue sidestepped entirely. Also, major props to special makeup effects guru Rick Baker. The creatures in the present are the normal variety of crazy weird aliens we’ve come to expect from the show, but when J goes back in time the aliens in the 60s are more like the rubber suit aliens found on 60s television shows like Star Trek and The Outer Limits. It’s a clever stylistic touch. A romantic subplot involving young K and young O (the always smokin’ Alice Eve from She’s Out of My League) doesn’t really go anywhere but that’s a small gripe. The 3D starts out eye-popping but flattens out very quickly, as so many 3D films do nowadays. No big deal though. Through cleverness and Brolin’s rejuvenating presence, Men in Black 3 manages to more than redeem the series after its awful second installment. It’s a lot of fun and well worth checking out.

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