"Don't ask questions you don't want to know the answer to."
Agents J and K return in Men In Black 3 to tackle a new threat. Boris
The Animal, an alien criminal sealed up in a lunar prison, has escaped and travelled back in time, killing K and causing a "temporal fracture". Motive? K was the reason that Boris The Animal now has only one arm. And now Boris The Animal has had his revenge, killing K when he was younger. This has also had the effect of stopping K putting up a defensive barrier that protects the Earth from Boris The Animal's species, and they're about to rain hell down on Earth. The only person who can stop him is the only person who remembers K being alive in the first place: Agent J. J has to follow Boris The Animal back in time and not only save K, but get that defensive structure back up. The sequel to the movies Men In Black and Men In Black II (1997 and 2002, respectively) has Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones return as J and K (respectively), Emma Thompson makes her way into the fray as Agent O, and names such as Nicole Scherzinger, Josh Brolin and Flight Of The Conchords' Jemaine Clement.
Alright, enough of that bullshit. Review follows. There are also major spoilers - it's a package deal.
I love a good grandfather paradox. Only this time it's come with a tiny twist - instead of trying to kill his own grandfather, J is trying to save his own mentor. Of course, it being a comedy, he ultimately succeeds. But we all knew that was coming. We also all knew - given the hints of Cape Canaveral and July 1969 - that there would be something to do with the space race being involved (though I was painfully slow with the Cape Canaveral hint, the date didn't escape my attention). What better way to end a movie about aliens than by giving us a peek at archive footage of the Apollo 11 launch.
If the dates at the top of the writeup here didn't tip you off, this film is a ten-years-in-the-making reboot of the Men In Black franchise. Like its predecessors, it's come with promises of laughter and aliens, and it's come with a theme song. Only this time, it's Pitbull doing the singing1. And the laughter and the aliens are... actually, the laughter and the aliens are still there. Unfortunately, we miss out on some of the key elements that Men In Black had in the first place - to whit, the MIB headquarters, characters such as Frank The Pug and Agent Z, and J's comments just after he neuralyses people (though he does make a couple of good quips at the start of the film).
Performances: big tick. Agent O and Agent K, of course, had to be younger. The casting of Tommy Lee Jones is of course an MIB thing and should never be touched... unless it's cheaper/easier to hire someone who looks like a younger Tommy Lee Jones and just dub Jones' voice in over the top. Solution: Josh Brolin. Result: seamless. Ditto for Emma Thompson and her younger version (Alice Eve). Through the whole movie, I was thinking "wow, that's some pretty impressive CGI". Shortly, this turned to "amazing makeup job", and only at the end of the film did it become apparent that two people were playing the same role. Whether I'm right about the dubbed voices or not, I'm not sure. But either way, I liked what I saw.
There are always critics who say that rebooting a franchise is a bad idea, and some who say that sequels are terrible ideas. I usually point them in the direction of the Shrek franchise - that one lasted four movies without going completely stale - and wait for the moment when I get to smirk with satisfaction. So, has Men In Black 3 gone the same way, or should it be thrown in the nearest bargain bin and lumped in with all the other cult classics? I usually ask myself six important questions to answer this one:
- Did it live up to its expectations? Yes. See below.
- Was it better than its predecessor? Yes, purely from a critical point of view. I disagree - I liked Men In Black II, but if Men In Black 3 is getting (on average) more positive reviews, I'm not going to argue.
- Is it a good standalone film? Does it continue a linear storyline? Yes and no (respectively). Some sequels rely on the viewer being familiar with the story, or at least the concept. The concept of the Men In Black is explained very well within the first ten minutes or so. Sure, there are a few character jokes, but that's pretty normal. Men In Black 3 behaved pretty much like a sitcom - you can see one without seeing the others. Men In Black 3 explains a little more of the backstory behind J and K (though K more than J) but it's again nonlinear. Continuity of linear storylines is a place I don't like cinema going, unless it's based on an already successful book series (think Harry Potter).
- Is it more of the same bullshit from ten years ago? Yes. It's still aliens, it's still comedy, so, yes, it's the same basic idea as it always was. But, the aliens have been remarkably well done, and the comedy... well, I always say that comedy doesn't have to be well-produced, as long as it gets laughs. And yes, I laughed.
- Does it cater to the same audience that it catered to 10 years ago? Yes. And by that, I mean "has it taken the ten-year gap, where all the kiddies have grown up and all the young adults are in their seriously adult phase, into account?" (Think Toy Story 3.) I'd say it still has something for everyone who doesn't mind seeing a creepy-crawly or two2, though it's one of those movies where kiddies do actually need a grownup.
- Finally, do viewers get the same feeling now as they did before? This one is a biggie. I'd say yes, except I have nothing to compare it to. I've never seen Men In Black and I never saw Men In Black II in the cinema. I leave that up to you.
Men In Black 3 is a well-acted-out deeper exploration of the franchise, with not too many plot points that are overdone, and with a lot of the same warm humour that the other Men In Black films became famous for. There's room for improvement, but overall I'm impressed. 8/10
1 And unfortunately the song makes me want to grab the nearest heavy blunt object and beat my skull out through my arsehole... but I'm not reviewing the song.
2 As an aside, I have a nasty phobia of things that jab into, or stick out of, people (think needles, syringes and weapons such as spears or swords). This film has a large amount of "stabby-jabby stuff" - as I've taken to calling it - and I was largely unperturbed. Whether this is me getting better or the filmmakers deliberately making the stabby-jabby bits look unrealistic is unclear, but as I say, I enjoyed it despite this phobia.