Thursday, May 24, 2012
Review: "Men in Black III"
"Men in Black III" gets brownie points simply for not being "Men in Black II."
It's been 10 years since "MIIB," and while I've completely forgotten the plot of that movie, the bad taste it left in my mouth lingers. I remember thinking it was one of the laziest sequels I'd ever seen, simply taking the quirky original film and repackaging its key elements for a cynical, money-grubbing do-over.
Despite that, it made something like a half-billion dollars, so the question becomes: why did it take a decade to make another movie? The jaded, cynical critic in me can't help but take note that the careers of star Will Smith and director Barry Sonnenfeld have not exactly been afire as of late.
Sonnenfeld's been stuck doing low-profile television since the disastrous "RV" six years ago, which also pretty much marked the end of Robin Williams as a leading man. Smith hasn't starred in anything since 2008, when he gave us the lackluster "Seven Pounds" and the lackluster-er "Hancock."
Even if "MiB III" exists simply to gobble up cash and rejuvenate some careers, it's a reasonably engaging bit of disposable entertainment. It's not nearly as funny as it ought to be, and I kept feeling like the characters were explaining the movie to me rather than letting it just happen. But there's plenty of slapsticky action, more enjoyably scary/goofy aliens, and a few unexpected poignant moments.
Agents J (Smith) and K (Jones) are back as footmen in the Men in Black, a super-secret agency serving to protect the many alien species that are secretly residing on Earth (and the humans from them). Their jobs and their relationship have grown stale, with J frustrated with K's inability to ever open up to him. "I'm getting too old for this. I can only imagine how you feel," J riffs after a particularly nasty dust-up in a Chinese noodle shop.
Unfortunately, a superbad dude named Boris the Animal -- "It's just Boris," he repeatedly insists, not that anyone pays any attention -- breaks out of Lunar Max, the alien prison on the moon. A creepy alien with camera lenses for eyes and a pet that lives inside his hand and spits deadly spikes, Boris (Jemaine Clement) swears vengeance on K, who blew his arm off back in 1969.
Boris goes back in time and alters the temporal reality so K no longer exists. Now it's up to J to travel back to the days of hippies and decent rock 'n' roll and put things right.
Josh Brolin plays the young K, expertly mimicking Jones' curt mannerisms and high-pitched Texas drawl. The '60s-era aliens are a trip, made up to resemble extra-terrestrials from movie and TV of that time.
I really enjoyed Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin, the sole survivor of his alien race who can see across the dimension of time and envision all possible outcomes at once. He's a got a daffy lost-puppy vibe, sweet-natured but with a bit of bite.
There's also a clever bit where J and K encounter Andy Warhol, who turns out to be another Men in Black agent in deep undercover (Bill Hader) to infiltrate the counterculture. "I'm so out of ideas I'm painting soup cans and bananas!"
The run-up to the big showdown is a blur of chases and quips, culminating in a fight on the launch pad of the Apollo 11 rocket as it's getting set to shoot the moon. There's also something about an ArcNet protecting the earth from a Boglodite invasion, and a love flame for K (played by Alice Eve when young and Emma Thompson when not) and a half a dozen other untidy story threads that screenwriter Etan Cohen never bothers to knit together.
It's hard to say that "Men in Black III" is worth the wait, since I don't get the sense much of anyone was really waiting for it. But now that it's here, at least you won't feel like zapping yourself with one of the MiB forget-it-all gizmos after watching it.
2.5 stars out of four