Saturday, May 26, 2012

Film Review: "Men in Black 3" (***)

Cannes is rolling out as we speak, and I'll be writing up my conclusion of the festival to come fresh tomorrow morning, but it turns out that my 2012 cinematic delight for this week came from as unexpected a place as could be guessed. Ten years after the previous film managed to be quite a disappointing diversion, you really couldn't be blamed for not believing there to be any spark left in "Men in Black"s brand. There's also quite a heavy chance that you came and left "Men in Black 3" with that sentiment in mind, and that's quite fine as well. For my part, I found it to be a zippy, if typically unhinged, delight.

Taking the central relationship into heavy consideration on this outing, the film inevitably opens with a hilariously camp-filled escape sequence in which Boris the Animal, our villain for this segment, breaks out of prison and sets off his master plan. 43 years back, Agent K shot off Boris' arm, foiled his plots, and sentenced him to prison. The simple solution? Time travel, as is always the best idea for fixing any given situation. Naturally it all goes off without a hitch, except that Agent J remembers K existed, and is set on heading back after Boris to stop the oncoming Armageddon that K originally avoided in the late 60s.

Yes, a rather predictable and formulaic set-up, but it's really only a catalyst for the film to mess around with a lot of interesting ideas. True, I am an absolute sucker for time-travel related science-fiction, mostly due to an obsession with "Fringe", but that is kind of beside the point of this film. It isn't using time-travel as this ultimate emotional reconciliation of cinematic meaning. It's more using it as a cool toy to mess around with, which is actually fine enough. None of the science they use to explain the fiction really makes any sense, and everything would honestly feel somewhat dishonest if it did. The fact that things are barely strung together, kind of, is what defines its sprightly step.

The grand mass of this film's fun is seeing Agent J commingling with the younger version of Agent K, which there is no better person they could have found to fit that role than Josh Brolin. He brings such a mindfulness of Tommy Lee Jones' mannerisms, but also his own unique levity to this phase of the character. On a side note, this is at least the second time Brolin and Jones have appeared in the same movie, but never the same scene. The first time was "No Country for Old Men", and perhaps again in "In the Valley of Elah", though I'm not sure if they did share a scene in that one since I haven't had the opportunity to see it.

Even more of an unexpected treat of the film was the simple fact that Michael Stuhlbarg showed up with a major role to play in the film's happenings. The major role isn't so important as it gives him the chance to be around for so much longer, and even if he didn't have such a delightful role to play, he'd get away with it for dumb grin he holds even at his most solemn of moments. It's more of a cartoon pastiche of the nervous ticks he displayed in "A Serious Man". He has a great time with it, and it just seems like everyone in general is having an unapologetic blast making this movie.

Will Smith's typical do of things does manage to come off grating at times, but that seems so completely conditional to the character. I am quite happy with Smith returning to this franchise if it allows him to continue living in the vein of his days as "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air". This could be the only instance in which I complain that Emma Thompson simply didn't have as much vim and dedication as Alice Eve, or maybe this is just another signifier of a bright star ahead for Eve. Bill Hader and Will Arnett have bit cameos to show that there are new faces in the comedic world, but this series does far better without that kind of obvious comedic performer. They only end up coming off as stale.

But who are we even kidding? The real star of the show is Rick Baker, head of makeup and cooky creature design, and given the alien world we're dealing with, there is an overabundance of opportunities which he so utterly thrives in. The crawling design on Boris the Animal proved surprising and rather hilarious in fact, and they kept finding different ways of keeping him in line with the first film's disgusting villain. Even outside his immaculate and playful designs, the visual effects do plenty to compensate for lacking ideas. The action scenes have a zip and spontaneity that really add to the "let's have a good time with this" feeling the film gives off overall.

I can't truly credit much, if any of this, towards director Barry Sonnenfeld, though it's worth noting that his style doesn't seem intent on burying the film deeply into the ground. It works simply, and doesn't do too much to distract. I don't think anyone would make this franchise go off as well as Sonnenfeld does. Is it rather intellectual in how it elicits its jokes? Not at all, and in fact does everything with a dumb grin on its face, but there's such an affection that goes towards pulling off that dumb grin. Like Agent K's assertion towards pie, it's a strange thing, because it actually works, and you don't feel too bad afterwards.


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