Thursday, 31 May 2012

Movies - Men In Black 3 review


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non- Functional.

Dir: Barry Sonnenfeld
Stars: Will Smith, Josh Brolin, Jermaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tommy Lee Jones
Running Time: 106mins 
Men In Black 3 exists because Will Smith had a time-travel idea he wanted to develop, and was hurried into production without a full script in order to take advantage of tax breaks. That's everything you need to know about the movie. There was no need to bring this series back, no public demand or pressing reason for these characters and this world to be revived one more time, a decade since the dreadful second outing killed what goodwill remained from the overrated first. It's here because it was the easiest way for Will Smith to indulge his idea under a recognisable banner for his comeback movie, a creative process taken so seriously that, by the admission of those who made it, a production break was built into the schedule so that everything between the movie's opening and closing gambits could be written. Not rewritten, but written.
There's no reason such a messy creation couldn't lead to the creation of something special (few of Francis Ford Coppola's masterpieces were made without all hell breaking loose behind the scenes), but in this case, the nature of the thinking and attitudes that went into the movie directly translate to the experience of watching it. It's a box-ticking movie, an accountant's idea of a summer blockbuster. As the hurried production would suggest, there's an idea at the beginning and at the end, with nothing but flashy meandering in-between. You could cut out everything between Agent J's first time jump until the arrival at Cape Canaveral (not a spoiler, it's foreshadowed very early) and miss absolutely nothing in terms of storytelling.
Considering this is rumoured to be among the year's most expensive movies, there's no sense of anyone involved actually caring about it. There are countless bad movies where, despite their many other failings, it's clear that someone, somewhere had invested in the work on some level. Men In Black 3 is a hollow echo of a movie, mirroring the more memorable aspects of the two previous movies without adding anything new, telling a story that has little need for these specific characters - the ending makes an attempt at rewriting the series' continuity, but its change is more of a footnote to what already know rather than actually changing anything - and a time-travel gimmick that is used no more ambitiously than to bolt Andy Warhol and the Apollo 11 launch onto a plot that could just as easily have been told in the present, or in the case of a brief gyro-bike chase, is somehow more futuristic than anything J has at his disposal in his own time.
There are no clever manipulations of the conceit and its endless complexities, with the potential of a character who sees every possible timeline at once reduced to nothing more than a vessel for delivering weak gags about alternate futures, and carrying around a MacGuffin whose technology bears no relation to his power. The villain(s) doesn't have much in the way of a scheme, other to kill K before he can install a device to protect the Earth from invasion. There's a circularity to how the plot is laid out that makes it difficult to tell who is acting and who is reacting, whether K and J or villain Boris are doing what they do because of what they know of the future, or because it makes sense as part of their investigations in the '60s. If this confusion was intentional, the movie never acknowledges or tries to draw on any of its comedic potential in a Bill And Ted fashion.

Tommy Lee Jones is straight-swapped for Josh Brolin and barely appears bar a few token scenes at the movie's beginning and end. Brolin does strong impersonation of Jones' surly K, but the material gives him nowhere new to take the character. He's a little more cheerful, but not enough to justify J's constant out-loud wondering about the event that turned him into such a grouch in the future. He smiles occasionally in the past, but is hardly a barrel of laughs, and his claim to be twenty-nine years old is surely a joke. Smith does his best to enliven the material, but the script's only attempts at wit either come from pointing out something unusual (hey, it's an alien / sci-fi gun / a giant mobile phone / Andy Warhol!) with a slight air of incredulity. Many movies have featured worse dialogue, but few have felt so stilted and lacking flair and elegance. An exchange in which J pretends to call all men K and all women O is strenuously constructed in the service of a single gag so contrived it cannot even claim to be a pun.

That's true of the rest of the movie, where even its chief pleasure - the designs of the various aliens occupying both the foreground and background of the screen - is a holdover from the previous movies' only genuine claim to inspiration. None of the individual creatures are particularly memorable in their own right, although the villain's hand-spiders are appropriately creepy if mostly ignored beyond the first scene, but seeing them interact and reveal themselves over small miscalculations as to how to act in the human world (drinking a container of plum sauce, for example) imbues the movie with a engagingly icky otherworldliness. There's nothing as entertaining as any of Futurama's more outlandish aliens, though, despite the movie feeling like it originated on the Neutral Planet.
While the creature design at least arouses a glimmer of interest, the depiction of the '60s is reliant on only the least imaginative 'groovy' identifiers, while many outdoor scenes look much the same as they do in modern day. The writers were obviously fonder of the idea of travelling back in time more than what happens when they actually get there. The possible challenges Will Smith would face as a black man in an era of institutionalised inequality is mentioned early, and subsequently ignored. That a high-ranking military general at Cape Canaveral turns out to be black even shows a deliberate avoidance of the problem, with the character's ethnicity only important for another part of the story.

I doubt many people will have any expectations for Men In Black 3 to be any good, and that it comes away as perfunctory and calculated rather than authentically bad is probably the only real success it can claim. If you've left a hard day at work and are looking for something to turn your brain off in front of, it's just about adequate. If you liked the original, the soundtrack is much the same, the aliens are as weird looking as you remember, and Josh Brolin's Tommy Lee Jones impersonation might raise a smile. That's it, though: going in with the lowest possible expectation will yield a movie you probably won't dislike with any worthwhile passion. That you have to pay $14 / £9 a ticket for an experience which will at best inspire feelings of absolute indifference is what slips it below the average mark. [ 4 ]



Dan O. said...

Good review Xander. Had a lot of fun with this flick, but definitely wasn't as good as the first. Still, a lot better than the second and that's all that matters.

Xander Markham said...

Thanks for the comment, Dan! I wasn't a big fan of the original, finding the alien designs more fun than the movie itself, so there's every chance long-time fans like you will enjoy this more than I did.