Movie review: 'Men in Black 3' is a little musty
The third time is seldom a charm for movies.
“The Godfather: Part III,” “Shrek 3,” “Spider-Man 3,” for example, all declined in quality compared to their predecessors. One could blame the script, the cast, the director or just simply that the novelty wore off.
To remain fresh, a film on the sequel junket typically adds a memorable character or two, changes its environment and/or finds a new storyline. “Toy Story 3” managed to incorporate all three, and the result was a rare success in the triplicate category.
“Men in Black 3” tries to duplicate this feat, yet is only moderately successful. The good news is it’s significantly better than “MiB2.” Granted, that wouldn’t take much of an effort.
Many of the problems in “MiB3” can be found in the screenplay, which reportedly wasn’t finished when filming commenced and involved many screenwriters to complete. Only one is credited: Etan Cohen.
In the finished product, numerous jokes fall flat, relationships are underdeveloped and back stories pile up. It’s almost as if the filmmaker said, “The second film stunk so we’re going to do better this time, even if it costs us more than $215 million.”
Much of the humor in this first “Men in Black,” dating back 15 years, derived from discovering aliens living among humans. Most were disguised in human form and the special-effects folks had a field day revealing the aliens’ decidedly odd characteristics.
Attempts exist here, too, most notably when Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) interrogate an alien at a bowling alley, remove his head and use it as a bowling ball. But there’s a sameness and thus a staleness to many of these confrontations.
At least we still have Smith and Jones. Much of the franchise’s appeal comes from the fire-and-ice partnership of J and K. Smith and Jones gave the previous films its spark, and it’s on display here, too, as J and K bicker like an old couple.
But even that antagonism has a mustiness to it. To jumpstart the relationship, director Barry Sonnenfeld decides to go in back in time. Cue Huey Lewis and the News.
The plot is set in motion when an alien assassin Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), who repeatedly objects to being called an animal, escapes from prison and returns to the past, specifically July 16, 1969, to kill Agent K, who had shot off his left arm and foiled his race’s plan to destroy Earth.
Agent J arrives at work one day and discovers no one knows who K is. He’s told by his supervisor, Agent O (Emma Thompson), that K has been killed. And then alien assassins start attacking Earth. The only way to prevent this assault and save K’s life is for J to journey back to 1969, too.
The film spends considerable time poking fun at the time period, introducing characters like Andy Warhol, and showing disgruntled New York Mets fans complaining about their team, unaware that the squad will win the World Series in a few months.
But the focus here is on the Apollo 11 launch and the man on the moon mission. The script ties in the launch with world salvation. Who knew? Most of the enjoyment in this film is provided by Josh Brolin, who portrays K as a young man. His channeling of Jones is scary good. Think John Belushi’s brilliant take on Joe Cocker on “Saturday Night Live.”
In fact, the filmmakers should have somehow included a “dueling” Agent K scene where Brolin and Jones interact with each other. Hey, the film gives us a scene where the “young” and the “old” Borises meet.
Smith and Brolin make a fine pair, too.
The film contains a few decent action scenes, too, specifically one involving “gyrocycles,” but watching aliens get splattered has that same-old, same-old feel to it. And while Clement does add menace as Boris, his stake-firing hand gets tiresome after a while.
And yes, there are some laughs, but not many. You could hear the crickets during the eulogy for Zed where Thompson speaks in alien dialect. And Michael Stuhlbarg’s shtick as an alien who can see into the future contains a tired tagline.
If you’re a Thompson fan, don’t bother. She’s in the film for a total of about 5 minutes. Her character is played in 1969 by Alice Eve, and the young O and K have the hots for each other. But this relationship goes nowhere. An opportunity for “humanizing” K more and/or adding a few chuckles gets lost.
And Agent J gets a backstory, too. I won’t disclose the “big revelation,” but anyone familiar with black history might have trouble with its accuracy.
And please, all you critics of critics who lambaste reviewers for criticizing entertaining movies, get a grip. Just because a film is entertaining or escapist — which by the way most films are — doesn’t exempt it from criticism. Escapist fare can be good like “The Avengers” or rotten like “Battleship.”
“MiB3” belongs in that middle ground. Fans of the series will be pleased that it’s better than its immediate predecessor. Fans of movies will wonder why we have to see the same characters doing basically the same things again. Far too many people have been “neuralized,” forgetting anything they’ve just seen.
Oh, I almost forgot. The movie is in 3-D. I actually wish I could forget that as it’s once again pointless.
“Men in Black III” opens Friday.
“Men in Black 3” (B-)