Josh Wilding Reviews: MEN IN BLACK 3 (3D)
After a ten year absence from the big screen, is there still room in a crowded summer of blockbusters for Agents J and K? Well, Men in Black 3 is released on May 25th, and you can find out whether or not it's worth checking out right here in this spoiler-free review.
In Men in Black 3, Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are back… in time. J has seen some inexplicable things in his 15 years with the Men in Black, but nothing, not even aliens, perplexes him as much as his wry, reticent partner. But when K’s life and the fate of the planet are put at stake, Agent J will have to travel back in time to put things right. J discovers that there are secrets to the universe that K never told him — secrets that will reveal themselves as he teams up with the young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to save his partner, the agency, and the future of humankind.
Men in Black 3 is a return to form for a franchise which began all the way back in 1997 and was followed up with a disappointing sequel in 2002. Fast forward ten years and the threequel not only outshines its predecessors, but manages to stand out in a summer crammed full of blockbusters. Director Barry Sonnenfeld and screenwriter Etan Cohen find a near perfect balance of humour, action and impressive visual effects (not to mention a pretty damn good story too). Will Smith (Agent J) is reunited with Tommy Lee Jones (Agent K) in the first act of the film, and despite a ten year gap between this and the last instalment, their chemistry is as fantastic as ever and it's business as usual for the duo when we first meet up with them. However, the escape of the revenge-fuelled Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement) from a lunar prison means J is forced to head back in time. Why? Well, it turns out the villain jumped back to 1969 to kill K and only his partner remembers him. From here, the story is fairly straightforward, although there are still enough twists, turns and set pieces thrown in to keep Men in Black 3 feeling fresh and far from your bog standard time travel fare for the most part. Sonnenfeld has a great handle on the action and you will have no doubt by the time the credits roll that bringing him back was the right decision.
As you may have already guessed, both Smith and Jones deliver the quality performances we've come to expect from them, while the latter adds a believable and understandable level of weariness to the ageing Men in Black agent. His K understandably ends up taking a back seat for a lot of the movie, but Smith has no problem cementing his leading man status when the spotlight is placed on him despite an absence of four years from the big screen. However, it ends up being Josh Brolin's younger Agent K who steals the show as the actor delivers a performance which is entirely his own despite being clearly influenced by Jones's mannerisms. This younger version of the character shows us a side of him we haven't seen in the series before and it really is hard to imagine anyone else managing to do a job anywhere near as good. He's endearing and entirely convincing in the role and the chemistry he shares with Smith is a match for that the latter shares with his older counterpart. Clement seems like a strange choice to play the villainous Boris, but a combination of his creepy English accent and a brilliant make-up job really helps him to sell the character. He's not fleshed out a great deal, but his thirst for revenge and generally viscous nature is more than enough to make him an effective foe for J (and both K's) to face off against. Emma Thompson's O is on fine form as the head of the Men in Black, and so it's a shame that Alice Eve (who plays the younger version of O) has such a small and underwritten role in Men in Black 3. The few scenes she does have are actually really very good and she too shares a great deal of chemistry with Brolin. However, it's hard to really care all that much about the connection between the younger and older versions of each character as the relationship in both time periods never really gets chance to convince. The cast is rounded out with a brilliantly eccentric turn from Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin and Bill Hader's take on Andy Warhol results in some of the funniest scenes in the movie.
Men in Black 3 features impressive 3D and so it's hard to not recommend that as the optimum format to view the film in. As is often the case, it does feature a few scenes which feel no such benefit from the effects and others which could have really done with taking more advantage of them. Those which do however are amazing. It turns out that there is a lot more to that scene from the trailers in which J jumps through time and this alone justifies the higher ticket price, as does the action packed last act and several other moments. The visual effects are equally as impressive, although there are a handful of scenes where effects do look like effects. Whether the majority will notice such minor occurrences is highly unlikely though. Rick Baker's aliens look superb (especially the retro designs in 1969) and they are all arguably far more memorable and cleverly realised than any of those which have come before. The set designers also deserve a pat on the back for the wonderful job they did of creating an authentic and entirely believable 1969 setting. While its not as stylised as, say, the 1970s designs in Tim Burton's Dark Shadows, it is far more grounded and thereby completely convincing. Men in Black 3 is a great looking film with a rousing score and killer soundtrack.
Men in Black 3 could very easily be the end of the franchise or, depending on its success, the beginning of more to come. Regardless of whether they do decide to continue with a fourth instalment or a reboot, it would be a real shame if this really is the end of J and K's adventures on the big screen. If the film falters anywhere, it's that it feels a little too short. The story isn't necessarily damaged in any significant way because of this, but a few extra scenes here and there to flesh out some of the characters could have potentially added another star to the score below. You see, Men in Black 3 really is that much fun. It may not be as near-perfect as The Avengers, and it falters every now and then in terms of effects and humour, but the movie is just great fun from start to finish. It's not at all mindless (one twist in particular packs a real emotional punch) and while it wraps up a little too quickly, the fact that the script is a little too thin in places is the only major complaint you'll probably have. For anyone who didn't enjoy the last two films, it's unlikely that they'll suddenly fall in love with the franchise, but they might just fall in love with this movie.
Men in Black 3 avoids the threequel curse of the likes of Spider-Man 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand and instead ends up being the best film in the Men in Black franchise. Fantastic fun which will leave you wanting more.
Be sure to stay tuned to CBM next week for an exclusive interview with Men in Black 3 director Barry Sonnenfeld in which he discusses everything from the story to deleted scenes, the chances of a fourth movie and more.
Will Smith as Agent J
Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K
Josh Brolin as Young Agent K
Rip Torn as Chief Zed
Emma Thompson as Agent O
Alice Eve as Young Agent O
Nicole Scherzinger as Lilly
Bill Hader as Andy Warhol
RELEASE DATE: May 25th, 2012.
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