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Men in Black III (2012)

| May 26, 2012 | 0 Comments

The great joy of the Men in Black movies can be found in the open-ended ideals of science fiction itself.  The series, like the best of the genre, offers the possibilities of new places, new creatures and new ideas to be explored.  The original 1997 film had a grand idea: What if there were federal agents working in the shadows to police, monitor and control alien activity here on earth?  It was not only a great film but also a showcase for a former rapper-turned-sitcom star named Will Smith whose early scenes were a tour-de-force of comic brilliance.  The second film, released five years later, was a disaster.  Hardly an hour long, it repeated the formula without a single new idea, or a single laugh.

Men in Black III, I am happy to report, gets the series back on its feet.  It is no masterpiece, and it falls short in the belly laughs, but this time it has a meatier story, some breathtaking new special effects and an unexpectedly wonderful comic performance by Josh Brolin.  Yes, the movie ends with the standard fight to the finish, but along the way the movie finds some moments of grand brilliance.

The story I must discuss with some degree of spoilers, if you haven’t seen the trailer, and would like to be surprised, stop reading now.

The story this time is better than either of the two previous films.  It begins at a Super-Max prison on the moon where a master criminal, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) engineers an escape in order to take his revenge on Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones).  Boris is the last of his species and wants vengeance because long ago, K caused him to lose his arm.  That’s a bit of a sticky situation because the palm of Boris’ right hand is a cavity that contains a large bug that can shoot deadly darts at its victims.  Boris is a masterwork of creature design.  His whole body, it seems, is a weird construction of finger-like tendrils that open and close voluntarily.  His face contains a long row of teeth that seem to be all molars.  His eyes are hidden behind a pair of bizarre goggles and only at the end of the movie do we get the unappetizing sight of what Boris is trying to hide.

Boris’ mission of vengeance takes him to Earth where he intends to travel back in time and kill the young Agent K in order to, not only get his arm back, but to keep him from building a ray-shield that will protect earth from an invasion by his species.  Agent J (Will Smith), to his horror, reports to work only to find that his partner is not only absent but has been dead for 43 years.  J’s assignment is to travel back in time to prevent Boris from killing his friend.  That requires him to climb to the 61st floor of The Chrysler Building and walk out to the end of one of the eagle heads where he has to jump in order to build up enough speed achieve a time warp (apparently there isn’t time to procure a DeLorean).  The passage of time that J witnesses on the way down is comic gold.

This is where the movie really achieves take-off speed.  Back in the world of 1969 (much of which I cannot discuss), J meets the younger version of K (Josh Brolin), who is a little less stone-faced but no less attentive to his duties.  Brolin is amazing in the role.  He looks and moves and sounds so much like Tommy Lee Jones that you wonder how much he studied Jones for the role.  If the performance just came naturally, then he is a better actor than I thought he was.   With this performance, I am becoming convinced of what a wonderful actor Brolin is becoming, especially after his performance as George W. Bush in W, Tom Chaney in True Grit and Dan White in Milk.

I was also impressed, in a different way, with the performance of Michael Stuhlbarg (he played the schlemiel in A Serious Man).  Stuhlbarg plays Griffin, a spaced-out little man in a plaid hunting cap who has the ability to see all the possible variables of a situation.  He is also the possessor of the shield device that Boris is looking for.  I was surprised and very touched by the addition of Griffin to the story.  He could have been just a standard foil but he is a likable fellow whose sweet face is a picture of pure serenity.  He has a moment late in the film when he removes his hat that reveals another special effect that generated, within me, a genuine sense of wonderment.

The movie is filled with little moments of joy, most of which come out of the special effects.  Rick Baker’s make-up team and the visual effects engineers have created a gallery of brilliantly realized creatures and populated the frame much like the Star Wars films.  Not just Boris and Griffin, but also a strange Arabian man whose turban hides a cranium the size of a basketball.

As I said, this is no masterpiece in the story department, but I was glad to see that the movie takes the men in black in a new direction, and adds some touching context to the characters of J and K, but the movie does end with the standard old fight atop a rickety structure.  But the reward is what comes in the film’s closing passages as the movie reveals something about J and K that we never suspected.  It makes you long for what will be explored in the next adventure.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.