Sunday, June 3, 2012

Men In Black 3 (2012)

Back in 1997, I was at the movies a lot. And while there were a fair share of awesome movies released that year, there was just as much garbage piled in the corner under a blanket in the hopes that nobody would notice it, but the fetid odor of death and decay was far too powerful and overwhelming to forget or ignore. One remembers fondly movies such as "Air Force One," "Liar Liar," the only good "Austin Powers" movies, "The Devil's Advocate" and "The Fifth Element" as among some of the best movies of 1997. But there is no forgetting or forgiving that 1997 also gave us "Speed 2: Cruise Control," "Volcano," "Dante's Peak," "Spawn," "Anaconda," "Tomorrow Never Dies" and "Alien: Resurrection."

Then of course, there's that other film that we do not speak of. That little chunk of pure, unadulterated molten evil that must have been chipped from the slimy, scaly hide of Cthulhu himself: "Batman & Robin." Yeah, that was 1997 too.

Someone needs to suffer for this...

And I went to the movies to see that piece of crap. After all, how could my 15 year old self have known what kind of horrors awaited him? I was an innocent child undeserving of such torture. Looking back, I should have called Child Protective Services on Joel Schumacher.

There was something special that happened during the screening of that film, however. About an hour into the film, I think right when Poison Ivy met Mr. Freeze for the first time, the film broke. You know when you see that effect replicated and it looks like the screen is melting? Yeah, that's totally what happened. And I have never been more relieved. Those technical issues possibly saved my life, because I was seriously contemplating eating my own tongue until the film mercifully put itself out of our misery. And as a bonus, the manager came into the theater to apologize, thank us for choosing wherever it was that we were, and gave us a free pass for another film.

Anyways, the point I'm trying to make is that "Batman & Robin" sucked so hard that it destroyed the film stock it was printed on, which allowed me to see the first "Men In Black" for free.

It was a good trade.

"Men In Black" was one of those special "out of nowhere" movies that was pretty impossible not to love. Nobody really saw this thing coming, and it's difficult to compare it to anything that came before. I think the closest thing to compare it to is "Ghostbusters," but even as funny as it was, "Ghostbusters" never approached the zaniness that "Men In Black" did. It's almost to the point where "Men In Black" is difficult to categorize. Is it a comedy or an action flick? Few films can walk the line between the two the way that "Men In Black" did.

Now, the sequel, "Men In Black II" is pretty widely regarded as a massive disappointment. I can't really comment on that because I honestly have little to no memory of it. All I remember is Patrick Warburton was in the beginning, K comes out of retirement, Linda Fiorentino is suspiciously absent, and the really cheesy line "You're not sad because it rains, baby. It rains because you're sad." That's really all I remember.

Now we come to "Men In Black III," and I have to say that while I was very excited to see it, I was not really sure of what to expect. The general impression that I got from the trailers was that A) Josh Brolin does a SCARY good Tommy Lee Jones impression, B) It's good to see Will Smith being funny again, and C) This could either be really, really good or stupendously bad. But the affection I have for the first movie raised my hopes to the point that I was anticipating something at the very least fairly decent.

I love having my expectations exceeded. "Men In Black III" was awesome.

You know, not many people can pull this look off...

It's difficult to explain exactly why this movie works, but what it really boils down to in the end is entertainment. It's just a lot of fun. It's not too overly silly, it's not too overly serious, it has dramatic moments while maintaining a light tone, and it's a great example of how to make a movie that's fun. So often a movie will fail when trying to find a balance between drama and comedy, and go too far one way, or they equate humor with being stupid, prime examples of both can be found in the "Transformers" franchise.

The characters in "Men In Black" are not stupid. They're not clowns doing pratfalls or annoying jackasses. You actually like these characters, which is something that is shockingly sparse in a lot of comedies. I mean, put Will Smith's Agent J against Shia LaBeouf in "Transformers." You can not tell me that Shia even approaches the same hemisphere in terms of likability. True, some of that may be because Will Smith actually possess talent, but looking at it from a character perspective, who would you rather follow through a series of films?

::Insert "South Park" joke here::

I don't mean to rip on "Transformers" (Ok, that's a lie. I tear apart that piece of trash at every opportunity) but I simply use it as an example of why a movie can work based on characters alone. "Men In Black III" could stand on the likability of the characters, even if it didn't have a fun, exciting story to go along with it.

I mentioned missing funny Will Smith earlier, and I was very entertained by his return to the "not serious." I think we forget sometimes how incredibly funny this guy can be to watch, and I soaked up this performance he gave like a sponge. He is so damn funny without really trying that hard, which is a big difference between him and some other comedians. With Will Ferrell, you can tell he's trying. Seth Rogan is trying and failing hard. Vince Vaughn is trying OH SO HARD but he's still just that jackass next door who won't shut the hell up.

Will Smith is so smooth that the comedy almost seems like an accident. I think that's what they call "naturalistic" in the biz.

"Ya'll are laughing. Did I say something funny? I'm like this all the time, see, so I can't really even tell anymore."

The story was the big thing that I was a little iffy on. Whenever "time travel" is brought up in a plot synopses I get a little worried, and understandably so. I mean, for every "Back To The Future" or "Star Trek: First Contact" there's a "Time Cop" and "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home." I know, I know, "The Voyage Home" is considered one of the good Trek movies, but I could never get behind William Shatner breaking into Sea World.

The time travel aspect in "Men In Black III" is handled more in the tradition of "Back To The Future" than it is "The Terminator," although there are elements of both "styles" of time travel - those being of the thought that the future is either changeable or a self-fulfilling prophecy, depending on the movie. J certainly can and does change events in the past, however, on some occasions it drifts towards the "you've done this because you did it already" head-splitting conundrums of time travel more in keeping with a rigid timeline. But these are fairly rare, and it generally stays more lenient with rules.

From an acting standpoint, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are effectively the same characters they were before, and the actors grasp of the characters has not diminished in quality. The biggest difference is that Tommy Lee Jones' Agent K is given a bit more depth, so to speak. That's difficult to quantify, however, given the fact that his personality is still an impenetrable shell. What was interesting though was to see what Josh Brolin did with Agent K.

Josh Brolin, as I mentioned before, does a fantastic Tommy Lee Jones impression, catching his voice, nuances and mannerisms to the point where it's almost creepy. But this is a younger version of K, and while you can see the man he will become, he's not quite there yet. And if anything, this is a more open and reasonably accessible version of K, although that isn't saying much at all since K still answers most questions in under 5 words and small talk is an utterly foreign concept worthy only of a stern, almost irritated look. But he's not as cold as the older K is, and the reason for that is a driving force of the movie.

The entire climax of the movie has to do with the question that Agent J asks the older K several times - "What happened to make you like this, man?"

This brings us to the ending. The ending of "Men In Black III" caught me completely off guard. Not going into spoilers here, but suffice to say that there is a twist at the end of this movie that was really unexpected. It was cool, shocking, and offers a whole new way to look at the entire series up to this point.

And I still don't know if I like it or not.

When we find out what actually happened to K, while it does shed new light on character motivations and personalities, I'm not sure if it works when viewed with the other two films. Granted, I haven't seen the other two films in a very long time, but looking back, I'm not sure how well the twist ties in with everything. In fact, I would not be surprised to find more than a few occasions where it would make no sense whatsoever, especially in the first film.

Also, it seems to me that while the event that happens to K would indeed be a life changing event, I'm not really buying it as the reason he becomes very cold and prickly. If anything, I would think that it would make him more gentle, all things considered. But that's just me.

And if there were one other thing I would have changed, I would have liked to know a little bit more about the bad guy, Boris The Animal since he's basically just an anonymous killer alien and nothing much more than that. Especially since he's played by Germaine Clement! Now, he's basically unrecognizable under the costume, but still, that's pretty cool. Makes me wonder if he has any hip-hop alter-egos. Maybe Girapffe.

"You're the most beautiful alien (in the room)"

Oh, and also...don't give Will Arnett just 30 seconds of screen time. That's not cool.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Men In Black III" is a great big ball of fun. While it may not be as good as the first, it is miles ahead of the second. Filled with great performances and a lot of laugh out loud moments. If only all summer blockbusters could be this entertaining. Highly Recommended.

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