Men in Black 3 REVIEW

Josh Brolin and Will Smith in Men In Black 3.

"Shouldn't you look about 20 years younger?"

Release Date: 25 May 2012
PG | 106 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emma Thompson, Alice Eve, Nicole Scherzinger

In the decade since Men In Black’s besuited galaxy defenders last rolled out the Ray-Bans Spider-Man has swung his way through an entire trilogy of films (and a reboot), the global economy went into catastrophic meltdown and we’re slowly pushing the big red self-destruct button o’ doom on the environment. The world may have moved on, but the MiB haven’t, because it’s business as usual in this belated third instalment.

The music, the look, the bickering, the gadgets, the car, the worm guys… they’re all present, correct and in most cases, shinier. The passage of time has claimed some victims, however. Zed’s dead, replaced by Emma Thompson’s Oh at the head of the MiB, and K loses a few wrinkles in a piece of chronological jiggery-pokery that finds J travelling back to 1969 to save his partner, and the world. It may seem like the underdog in a summer full of four-colour heroics, bats, cats and impossible worlds, but MIB 3 is enjoyable enough that we wish the series hadn’t been MIA for quite so long.

Opening with a heavy-hitting prison break on the Moon’s Lunar Max prison, we’re introduced to the film’s Big Bad: Boris The Animal (Flight Of The Conchords’ Jemaine Clement). Boris is a lethal Boglodite with a fanged space vagina on the palm of his one remaining hand, where a symbiotic space-weasel dwells, spitting out deadly organic quills like miniature harpoons. Needless to say, creature creator extraordinaire Rick Baker hasn’t lost his knack for memorable monster design. Boris has goggles for eyes, a fondness for  biker-chic and a voice deep enough to make your seat vibrate, but the best thing about him is that he isn’t just out to watch the world burn – his reasons for clashing with the MIB are much more personal.

The result is that this threequel is a curiously intimate blockbuster. A thick layer of melancholy blankets the first act as old-school-K reflects on the life he’s lived and his likely fate in this line of business. Boris, you see, only has one arm because K shot the other off, dooming the Boglodite race to extinction in the process. Revenge is at hand though, because Boris is able to erase future-K from existence by killing him in the past, leaving J to pursue the interstellar crim through time itself.

For a director who’s been absent from big-budget effects movies since the last Men In Black, Sonnenfeld holds his own, bringing back many of the series’ more recognisable visual motifs for a warm and fuzzy shot of concentrated nostalgia. The ‘60s shift never jars because the MIB are timeless creations; it’s Baker’s alien designs and the fiddly future tech (Neuralyzers with giant batteries) that give the film its retro-cool feel. The opening and climactic set-pieces, the latter a battle amidst the Apollo 11 launch, are on a scale the previous films never came close to matching. They’re amongst the film’s highlights, and since the characters have been off our screens for so long there’s genuine uncertainty about their destinies.

J and K’s word-perfect old-married-couple-chemistry makes it feel like barely 10 minutes since the last film, let alone 10 years. Tommy Lee Jones is the pleasing curmudgeon he always was, but it’s Josh Brolin who almost steals the show in a performance that’s much more than an uncanny K pastiche. He may have “city miles” but Brolin’s K hasn’t been jaded by years on the job, making him a genuinely affable presence. There are bit parts aplenty for familiar American comedians, but Griff (Michael Sthulbarg) is the more interesting and loveable new addition.One of Boris’s targets, he can see all possible futures at any one time, like a cheery woolly-hat-wearing Observer from Fringe. The flow of time is important to MIB 3’s narrative far beyond the initial time jump, though it does trip over its own twisty-turny shoelaces in the home stretch.

Men In Black 3’s failings are all entirely expected. Shooting began with an unfinished script, and it shows. Adventurous storytelling this is not. Neither is it particularly funny. Gags fall flat more often than they hit, and the film’s mid-section is very flabby. Sonnenfeld specialises in brisk 90-minute romps, and MIB 3 feels overlong with barely 15 minutes extra. For a film that cost enough to cure world hunger (probably) it’s also inexcusable that the effects should look so shoddy on occasion – not so much in the showcase sequences (such as the dazzling time jump), but in smaller greenscreen moments. Trips in the MIB HQ’s elevator, for example, look like they’ve been created on the fly using an iPhone app.

It’s neither a disaster, nor a roaring success. Not as good as Men In Black, but superior in almost every way to the risible sequel. Few things in life are worth waiting a decade for, and this isn’t one of them, but after witnessing so many big-screen sci-fi comebacks go so hideously wrong in recent years, Men In Black 3 emerges as something of a triumph.

Jordan Farley

When a goodie bag in our Men In Black competition (closes 28 May 2012).
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