Men In Black 3
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Men In Black 3

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Usually the ideal situation for a movie is to extend the story. With sequels and prequels it is possible to turn a movie into a trilogy and if possible a full blown franchise. In 1997 the reigning king of the summer action blockbuster, Will Smith, extended his right to the title by appearing in a comical science fiction film, ‘Men in Black. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld it not only became a financial success earning over half a billion in its initial domestic box office, but as a part of our popular culture. These numbers made it certain that there would be a sequel an in 2002 ‘Men in Black 2’ was released with lackluster reviews and a meager dip in revenue to about $414 million. It took almost a decade but the story is now officially a trilogy with the release of ‘Men in Black 3’. With Barry Sonnenfeld returning to the director’s chair the film garnered $624 million, the best box office yet. Although the reception in the critical community was better that the middle child of the set it was not able to reach the bar set by the original. Trending in the right direction combined with appreciable revenue as already assured a fourth installment. This film may not have achieved the memorable level of the first film but that movie had the advantage of complete originality, taking the theme of aliens hiding in plain sight on earth in an entirely new direction. By the third offering the novelty has worn thin but Sonnenfeld, working from a screenplay by Etan Cohen, has managed to reignite the series. Cohen was the author of the incredibly funny 2008 satiric masterpiece, ‘Tropic Thunder’. He has targeted his offbeat, irreverent humor to the guardians of our tiny planet, the Men in Black. The creative team behind the upcoming fourth film has not been officially announced but hopefully this team will once again take the reins.

The last member of a vicious alien race, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), had been imprisoned in a maximum security facility located on earth’s moon. As a member of the Boglodite race Boris is predisposed to extracting vengeance to a degree beyond anything a human being can imagine. Back in 1969 Boris was hunted down by a MIB agent, ‘K’, played in the present by (Tommy Lee Jones). The ensuing battle results in Boris losing an arm and being appended. This sets up the story for a favorite plot contrivance in Sci-Fi, time travel. Since this is foremost a comedy you shouldn’t have to be overly concerned about the technical details or any potential time paradoxes. Just relax and enjoy yourself awhile. In any case K expresses regrets to his partner Agent J (Will Smith), that he didn’t kill Boris when the opportunity presented itself. In the morning all traces of K are gone; he had been killed in the line of duty in 1969. The chief of the covet organization, Agent Z, has passed away with the high office and responsibility to Agent O ((Emma Thompson). She correctly deduces that Boris somehow traveled back to 1969 to avoid capture and kill K. this rippled forward as a critical rift in the space-time continuum. Earth is now threatened with an unstoppable Boglodite invasion made possible since K was responsible for the installation of a planetary shield. J obtains a time travel device and goes back to the day before the fateful confrontation between K and Boris. There J encounters a younger version of his grizzly partner now played by Josh Brolin.

Saving the timeline is an enduring favorite in science fiction. In film the best example is naturally enough ‘Back to the Future’, a movie this one liberally borrows from this classic. The usual pitfall with going back in time to meet the younger version of well-established characters in this case the way the younger version of K is portrayed went a long way to help the movie work. Josh Brolin has repeatedly proven himself to be one of the most versatile actors of our time. In fashion similar to his presentation of President George W. Bush in the biopic, ‘W.’ Brolin does not really do an imitation of K; he serves up to the audience his interpretation of the character defined by Tommy Lee Jones. Brolin distils the cocky arrogance of K and reforms it into something suitable for a young, rising star in a highly secretive organization. This is one of the incredible strengths exhibited by Brolin, the ability to distil the essence and unique rhythm of the character he is assuming and making his portrayal come across in an exceptionally believable way. In ‘W.’ his took on the persona of a man well known to the world but expertly avoided doing a parody of the former President. This lent a historical perspective to the film. In this movie the application of the same guide lines prevented his performance from becoming a caricature of K. by making the character his own Brolin pulled the film away of being a self-parody and kept it on an original track.

The factors that act against the full success of the movie are, unfortunately quite powerful. The MiB franchise is supposed to represent the whimsical side of science fiction but it is difficult to completely insulate yourself from the downright silly foundation of the story. Time travel is a difficult premise to deal with and here it creates gravity well that sucks in the remainder of the flick. Revenge is a universal emotion, one easily applicable to an extraterrestrial. While it is understandable the villain wants K dead and return to the point in time that altered Boris’ life makes sense the impact K makes is a stretch. The trademark brand of comedy didn’t gel properly in this film leaving the audience unfulfilled. It should be noted that is a significant improvement over the lamentable second flick.

This movie was not originally made for 3D exhibition. That decision was made after principle photography. In one way this benefited the production. One thing is evident; it most likely contributed to avoiding the typical gimmicky uses of depth that persist in many 3D movies. Filmmakers are just beginning to learn how to properly use this new technology as an integrated aspect of storytelling. Sonnenfeld had the opportunity to take his completed movie and decide how best to infuse the illusion of depth.

Posted 11/27/12

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