Monday, 4 June 2012
'Men in Black 3' review:
'Men in Black 3' doesn't make any sense. I don't mean the time travel plot which, even if the rules are seemingly being made up as it goes along, is easy enough to follow. But it don't understand in on a much more basic level: it's existence makes no sense at all. And for two reasons. The first and most obvious is that the (largely forgotten) original films came out over a decade ago, meaning that their audience has long since grown up, whilst the kids of today surely have no idea who these characters are. Perhaps that wouldn't be a problem if this were just a brand new adventure featuring our besuited heroes, slap-happy xenophobes Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones), but the story and its intended emotional beats require some vested interest in the relationship between these two characters. In fact Columbia seems to be marketing this sequel mainly on the strength of Josh Brolin's eerily accurate impersonation of Jones as 1960s era K - something a ten year old in 2012 could care less about.
The second reason this movie makes zero sense is thus: Will Smith is the biggest movie star on the planet. He is the only guy left in modern post-star Hollywood capable of guaranteeing a hit movie by the mere fact of his presence. Since 2002's 'Men in Black 2' every movie Smith has starred in has grossed over $160 million. His is a star so popular that even vehicles as messy and bloated as 'Hancock' and 'I Am Legend' were substantial global mega-hits. And, prior to his return to Barry Sonnenfeld's sci-fi comedy franchise, he had been away from movie screens for four years. In other words: he could have named his next project. He could have made anything he wanted. Every major studio must have been hassling him with offer after offer. Quentin Tarantino supposedly approached him to star in his upcoming western. And he chose to make 'Men in Black 3'. Just think about that. For a man who has several times stated a desire to one day run for president, that betrays an astounding lack of ambition.
Anyway, by now it's clear I'm stalling having to write about the film itself and that's because there isn't an awful lot to say. I'll lead with the few positives. 'A Serious Man' star Michael Stuhlbarg is pretty funny as Griffin, an alien who can see the future with a fairly entertaining twist: he can see all possible futures simultaneously. This paves way for some neat visual moments (as he enjoys a future baseball game in an empty stadium), some entertaining comic bits (as he frets about whether various absurd and unlikely events might come to pass) and a few nice character details (such as his multiple layers of clothing, presumably in preparation for every possible future). He is easily the best thing in the movie.
Then there's the fact that the villain, Boris the Animal, is played by 'Flight of the Conchords' funnyman Jermaine Clement. Though Clement is underutilised he does at least read lines in an entertaining way. Another plus is that several of the most irritatingly wacky supporting characters from the two previous movies have been written out, with the talking pug dog and the vaguely Hispanic cockroach guys the most welcome absentees. Unfortunately they've been joined on the casualty list by Rip Torn (whose Agent Z has been killed off between sequels), though the actor's recent legal troubles probably account for that. The problem is that his replacement is Emma Thompson who, though an infinitely superior dramatic actor, doesn't exactly bring the funny. Her character, Agent O, is also embroiled in 1960s shenanigans (played by Alice Eve) and is supposed to have been a long-term friend and love interest of Agent K - something which is undermined by the fact she's never been mentioned at all previously.
It's also to the film's detriment that, as good as Brolin's impersonation is, there is nowhere near enough Tommy Lee Jones. His sly, taciturn delivery is an essential part of what originally made the J and K partnership watchable - whereas Brolin is cast as a younger, less grumpy version of the character who doesn't really have the same appeal alongside Smith's hyper-chatty hero. Barry Sonnenfeld's handling of action and spectacle also leaves much to be desired. For instance, several scenes include shots which establish nothing more than that our hero is "very high up" - quite a mundane form of threat in a film featuring lazer-gun totting aliens and quite a boring one for an audience that's presumably just seen 'The Avengers'. Then there's the stuff we've seen before in the series - as little silver guns make aliens explode - and stuff we've seen done much better dozens of times elsewhere - such as a car chase through the streets of New York (the characters might be riding impractical futuristic motorbikes, but they're still basically just motorbikes).
The very worst thing about 'Men in Black 3' I've saved until last, and that's its basic premise and single joke: that difference is inherently hilarious and that usually the "different" are not human. The film continues the series' proud tradition of revealing how everybody with a funny face or voice or a different ethnicity to the protagonists is in fact in an alien. See that Chinese guy? He's a hideous alien! Hahaha. See that supermodel? Models are all aliens! Hahahaha. Lady Gaga? Tim Burton? Those weirdos are aliens! Hahahaha. Repeat for almost two hours. And these freaky people can be exploded and punched without consequence or guilt because, well, they're not from around here. It's basically a light family comedy about ultra-violent immigration officers.
'Men in Black 3' is out now in the UK, rated 'PG' by the BBFC.