May 28, 2012

Movie Monday: Men in Black 3

Men in Black 2 was a disappointment.  It entertained, but it was a pale retread of the original Men in Black.  Now, after a long gap, there's another sequel, which just seems unnecessary.  But Men in Black 3 is, surprisingly, a good movie.

Promotional image
For those who haven't heard anything about the story yet, here's the basics.  An old enemy of Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) escapes lunar prison and goes back in time to kill K before he's arrested.  Agent J (Will Smith) must then go back in time to save his partner and help his partner save the world the same way he did in the original timeline.  This gives Men in Black 3 a chance to play with the dynamics of the central relationship.  Even as a junior agent, K is reluctant to leave J in control of the mission.

Part of its success is brilliant casting.  When you think of a younger Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin does not come to mind.  But his Agent K is uncanny.  He's got Jones's mannerisms down pat, but there's a levity and energy to his performance that reverses the passage of time.  Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) plays Griffin, a fifth-dimensional being.  He's constantly babbling about which future he's in and the paths people might take.  This could be annoying, but Stuhlbarg (in his terrible woolen cap) sells it.  He's dorkily endearing.  Jermaine Clement, of Flight of the Conchords, is terrific as Boris the Animal.  ("It's just Boris.")  He's unrecognizable except for his deep voice, which is perfect for Boris's menacing proclamations. 

Emma Thompson and Alice Eve also join the cast as older and younger versions of Agent O.  Thompson does a fabulous job as always and Eve is fine in her few scenes.  But the film didn't quite earn K and O's semi-tragic never romantic relationship.  It's the problem of a series where each movie is produced without a plan for continuity.  K already had one wonderfully done failed relationship.  This one feels obligatory, like you can't have a summer blockbuster without a love interest.  O would have been fine as a fellow agent who just cared for K as a long-time colleague and friend.  (Or perhaps I'm just frustrated that at this point in the franchise all of the female good guys are love interests.)

There are a couple of standout scenes.  There's a funeral for Zed, played in the first two films by Rip Torn.  Obviously Torn couldn't be in this film because of his legal troubles.  K's eulogy, paraphrased, "He never told me anything and after decades I know nothing about his personal life," is perhaps the greatest compliment one man in black can give another and also hilariously brusque.  There's Agent J being hassled by cops in the past.  There's also Bill Hader's terrific cameo as Andy Warhol, unfortunately spoiled by the trailer.

If you didn't like Men in Black, then I'd avoid Men in Black 3.  (Common sense, really.)  But if you did enjoy it, the new film might be a pleasant surprise.


  1. I LOVED this!!! I have seen MIB about a hundred times (we also have the second, strictly obligatorily, since there was only 1 decent scene in it - the mailroom scene) and can completely agree with you that casting was a key component in this movie's success. Brolin was amazing, Smith was a matured version of J, and I could have used a lot more Emma Thompson.

    1. MiB is a favorite! I rewatched it before seeing the new one to have it fresh in my mind. Didn't rewatch the second, although I agree that the mailroom scene is good.

      Emma Thompson definitely could've used more. She was terrific at being subtly threatening.


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