Friday, June 1, 2012

Men in Black III

Josh Brolin, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Will Smith in Men in Black III
**1/2 out of ****

I'm recommending this movie with reservations. I think most people will have a good time watching it just as I did. It's generally fun, humorous, and filled with Barry Sonnenfeld's regular whimsical eye-candy. It also has a half-assed story at it's center, and a time travel plot that is even lazier.

I am fan of the first Men in Black film. Like Ghostbusters, it had a perfect balance of humor and special-effects-driven fantasy spectacle. That's a tricky thing to pull off but it's great when it works. And it's only likely to work as one movie. Introducing us to the world these characters inhabit is more than half the entertainment. After that stuff is out of the way, all you're left with are action scenes and jokes which need to deliver. The final act of the original Men in Black is the weaker part of the movie. So when it's sequel came out and looked absolutely banal (judging by it's trailers), I skipped on it and still haven't seen it to this day.

It says a lot that the trailer for Men in Black III, had me interested and the movie itself didn't break any promises that the trailer made. We get to see the Men in Black headquarters in the nineteen-sixties filled with aliens that look like the ones thought-up during that era. Rick Baker's creature and makeup effects are a great sight. And we get to spend the movie with young K played by Josh Brolin who does perfect work as a young Tommy Lee Jones.  

The movie has plenty of memorable set-pieces like a jump off the Chrysler Building, a visit to Andy Warhol's The Factory, and an action showdown on the launchpad of Apollo 11 at Cape Canaveral. Despite being a post-conversion 3D film, Barry Sonnenfeld's wide-angle-lens-obsessed imagery lends itself to 3D-viewing more naturally that a lot of native 3D movies do.

I normally don't like to write about the movies plot, because it creates temptation for spoilers. More often than not, as with this movie, the story has no lasting impression on me. It was more about the sights, sounds, and ideas.

Sonnenfeld gives this movie a consistent tone -or mood, which makes it a generally enjoyable ride even if it's in the service of a time travel rescue story that's more conceptually improvised than Back to the Future Part III.

Michael Stuhlbarg lends a borderline-annoying performance as an interesting alien who perceives multiple timelines wherever he goes. He's a fun invention but a little too obvious of a plot convenience. 

Jemain Clement, normally know for his dry delivery, is hidden beneath some great make-up and snarls with ferocity in a one-note performance that made him look like the wrong man for the job. It made me think back to the first MIB and what an incredibly good job Vincent D'Onofrio did as Edgar, the giant bug crammed inside a man suite.  

I think where Men in Black III really fails though, is that it has the great intention of giving us a theme that doesn't deliver entirely. The heart of this movie is J and K's friendship and how J feels like he has spent years working with an emotionally closed-off man. The time-travel story is supposed to allow J to understand K a little more. Wonderful moments surrounding this theme are sprinkled throughout the story but I wanted to see them develop more. 

I would compare this movie to Jurassic Park III. It's an unwelcome sequel that isn't trying very hard to exceed people's expectations while at the same time seems pretty focused on delivering the sensational goods so people can say, "That was pretty cool", then go home and forget about it forever. 

If there is one more thing I want to say, it is that I am tired of the name David Koepp. I used to think of him as a great screenwriter for his association with a lot of cool movies. In recent years, however, his career has been plagued with movies he had some participation in the writing of, and in most of these, the screenwriting seemed to be the most problematic element. I'm not saying that screenwriting is easy, but there are great minds out there who can put together a story that makes enough sense to be worthy of a sci-fi comedy. I think most of them work in television though... Wait. I just checked IMDB and found that David Koepp went back in time and took his name off the credits. Somehow I am the only one who remembers.

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