Back to Black: a Review of Men in Black III

I finally had a chance to go to the theatre to see MIB 3. I saw it in 2D and had some reservations because MIB 2 was such a colossal dissappointment. Perhaps having gone in to see MIB 2 with high expectations, based on a brilliant first installment of this comic book adaptation, was part of the problem. The reviews for MIB 3 have been pretty positive. My interest was piqued and since my kids enjoyed watching the first film on DVD, my husband and I said “what the heck.” Off we went on a Friday night family outing.

MIB 3 picked up with agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) 10 years after we had left them with such bitter disappointment. (OK, OK enough about how BAD MIB 2 was). They still worked for the top secret government agency that dealt with extraterrestrial life on earth. Most of these E.T.’s managed to fit right in with the rest of the freaks of humanity but some were down right hostile. That’s where the MIB stepped in. This time, they had to deal with Boris, the Animal. This one armed alien was the last of his viscious kind. The movie opened with Boris’ daring escape from a high security alien prison. This nasty creature subsequently managed to travel back in time in order to exact revenge and alter the present by killing the man who stole his freedom and his creepy left arm. That man, of course would have been Agent K. In the present time, Agent J seemed to be the only one that realised that his partner’s existence had been wiped out. So with the help of his boss, agent O (Emma Thompson), Agent J managed to transport back to NYC circa 1969. He is tasked with thwarting his partner’s untimely death. Of course this act would also have saved the world from subsequent annihilation. Two birds, one stone.

Of course this sounds completely silly, and on so many levels, it is. However, since this is based on a comic book and is marketed as a comedy, sillines is not necessarily a problem. Boy, oh boy did we all laugh. How J manages to save K (and you know he will) is part of the fun. Certainly, travelling back to 1969, meeting up with Andy Warhol and his freaky factory friends, is fertile ground for comedy. The personal story of J and K’s thorny relationship adds depth to what could otherwise be a fluffy cotton candy movie. The introduction of Griffin, a special alien with a powerful gift of seeing all possible futures (he is like a walking talking starry-eyed choose-your-own adventure novel), gives this movie heart and additional humour beyond the usual wise-cracks between the partners. He is introduced to us in a brilliantly comedic way as he answers the mundane question “How’s it going?”

[while young K is talking to Warhol, J encounters Griffin at the party not knowing who he is]

Agent J: How’s is it going?

Griffin: Going? How’s it going? Well, that depends. For me personally, it’s good, things are good. Unless, of course, we’re in the possible future where the muscle boy near the door gets into an argument with his girlfriend, which causes her to storm away and bump into the guy carrying the stuffed mushroom, who then dumps the tray onto those sailers on leave and a shoving match breaks out and they crash into the coffee table here. In which case, I gotta move my plate like right now. [J watches as everything Griffin says happens]

Griffin: Or, if it’s the possible future, in which the pastrami sandwich I’m eating causes me gastric distress. But thankfully your friend, sir, will offer some of the antacids he carries in his right pocket. So I’ll be good, I’ll be good. Except in the case of the possible future where I have to leave in two and a half minutes, just before he has a chance to offer me the antacids. So, on the whole, I’d have to say, not good. I’m not good. [J gives Griffin a confused look]

Griffin: But that depends.

Agent J: K!

Josh Brolin, as Agent K at age 29 (with a few city miles on his person) is uncanny. He truly managed to capture the spirit of a younger Tommy Lee Jones. I wondered at times if his voice was dubbed by Jones. According to EW magazine, Brolin really did his homework. He studied Jones’ film work and practiced his vocal style. His performance almost stole the film.

The CGI effects were spot-on; not too cartoony. The chase scenes did not drag on. There were a few cheap 3D style gags with aliens lunging toward the audience. I didn’t feel I was missing anything watching it in 2D. Time travel has been tricky to pull off coherently and this film managed to make it look easy. It achieved this by not taking itself too seriously and by not explaining  too much.

This was a really fun, action-packed comedy with many funny lines of dialogue and great visual style. It balanced the action with the narrative, for an exhilirating big screen experience. I particularly enjoyed the “Always Going out of Business Sale” sign at the electronics shop. I loved the banter between J &K, both in the present and in the past. I got a special kick from the depiction of technologic advancement in the field of alien handling over a 40 year period. Instead of using a pocket sized neuralizer (circa 2012) to wipe the memories of civilians who have witness unexplainable phenomena, back in 1969, the neuralizer was the size of an MRI machine.

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And just wait until you see the size of young Agent K’s portable phone!

I think the 3rd installment of the MIB movies is almost better than the first film. As a sequel, it can stand alone. However, it definitely benefits from familiarity with the relationship between agents J & K. So if you haven’t seen MIB 1, see it first or just watch the trailer below. Don’t waste your time with MIB2, just dive in to MIB 3. It  is an awesome, imaginative laugh that passed “Ann’s watch test.” Nope, I didn’t look at my watch once during the 106 minute runtime.

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