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Movie Review: Men in Black III

June 03, 2012


Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Men In Black 3 stars Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and Jemaine Clement.

Ten years later, Men in Black’s third homecoming is snappy and non-interventionist, just like its principal stars.

The sensible thing for any wayward franchise to do after its financially successful, yet critically bombed second installment, is to go back to the basics. While in the case of Men in Black films there may not have been much to get back to in the first place, but whatever it is  — eg. dead-pan comebacks; snappy rejoining; monologue-y brain Neuralyzing; mix of aliens, whose growling Earth-ending threats have as much weight as Looney Tunes’ Marvin the Martian —it’s good to see them get back to it.

The punch-line isn’t that the producers recovered a little of first movie’s minimal zest; it is that it only took them 10 years to do it. And it’s still far away from perfect.

With only two points to prove (A: re–establishing Will Smith’s box-office draw, and B: the neediness of an existing franchise’s continuance — also the cause behind MIB II as well), MIB III’s reason for living is scarce; but then again, I’ve seen sequels with much less go on for much, much longer.

However here, one sees a lot of bonus redemption points. Chief of them is New Zealand comic and one half of the Flight of the Conchords duo, Jemaine Clement, playing the snarling intergalactic baddie with splinter-throwing mini-alien for a hand called Boris the Animal.

The movie begins with Pussycat Dolls’ Nicole Scherzinger springing Boris out of a maximum security penitentiary on the Moon. Boris was placed in this space jail 40 years ago by a young agent K (played later in the film by Josh Brolin, doing an excellent variation of Tommy Lee Jones), who also blew away his left hand. Vengeance is tops on his agenda, and after an unexpected and foiled attempt, he “Time Jumps” to the past to kill the younger K and stop the placement of the ArcNet – an intergalactic security firewall for thwarting alien invasions. The device comes courtesy of a disheveled multi-dimensional ET calledGriffin— Michael Stuhlbarg moving like a restrained Robin Williams — whose curse is to see multiple versions of the past and the future at once.

With a screwed up timeline, Will Smith’s Agent J is the only one who remembers K (he’s also got a craving for chocolate milk, which settles “chronal displacement” effects). And so, he too jumps back – literally – into 1969, the day of Apollo 11’s liftoff.

Smith’s motor-mouth Agent J is slightly lethargic — perhaps a sign of Smith’s age catching up with him. His comebacks are as shriveled as Tommy Lee Jones’ laconic Agent J, who is brief and unspectacular.

And why the distant gruff attitude? From an earlier scene, we understand that he’s been this way since the second movie – or maybe longer.

Barry Sonnenfeld directs with a knack for outmoded deadpan, right out of the ’90s. And MIB III is all the better because of it. There’s a less frenetic forward momentum wheeling the screenplay by Etan Cohen (Madagascar2, Tropic Thunder). While the comedy isn’t as sharp or as gooey as before, the film has the right amount of pluck to make it appealing.

For the most part however, the film is paper-clipped together by the strength of its secondary cast: Josh Brolin, Michael Stuhlbarg and Jemaine Clement (the film also stars Alice Eve and the brilliant Emma Thompson, playing young and old versions of MIB’s new chieftain Agent O).

But for a film whose existence depends on its wit, its comedy comes out as dull as its headline cast.