Friday, May 25, 2012

Movie Review: "Men in Black III" by Alex Schopp

Men in Black III (2012)
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Writer(s): Lowell Cunningham, Etan Cohen
Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Emma Thompson, Alice Eve, Michael Stuhlbarg
Run Time: 103 min

In this, the third chapter of the franchise, we're met with Agent J (Smith) traveling back to the 1960's to stop an alien from killing his friend and partner, Agent K (Jones/Brolin). The plot thickens as the day K is set to be killed is also the day he activated the defense grid around the planet, protecting us from and monitoring alien insurgence; of which without, the planet would be completely open and unprotected from alien attacks. Time is precious as he hurries to save his partner and the future (present).

It's been ten years since the last Men in Black film, so when I first heard about this film I was stoked that we were getting another installment. Both of the previous films were fun, and I was looking forward to seeing Will Smith (among others) back in a role like this. But as we neared the date of release, with the exact opposite emotions you're hoping for as a film draws closer and closer, I started losing interest. A lot of this probably has to do with the fact that I've been spoiled recently with films like "Cabin in the Woods" and "The Avengers", and at this point I'm really only looking forward to films like "Prometheus" and "The Dark Knight Rises" this summer. So everything else has just felt kind of unspectacular to me. But nonetheless, I did still check this one out this afternoon, and I'm glad I did. Within the first few minutes I was quickly reminded just what type of movies these are and how enjoyably they can be.

Off the bat, what stood out to me the most was the overall production quality of the film. Quickly reminiscing about these films, you'd probably forget that the tones they carry are, at times, darker than expected, and that the music score and sound effects are actually pretty fantastic. With Danny Elfman composing the music, mixed with specialized fonts in the opening and closing credits, you would think you were in a 1980's Tim Burton movie. Or, between the Addams Family movies and the Men in Black films, maybe Barry Sonnenfeld just is the poor-man's Tim Burton. Either way, I was reminded with this film that the imagery of his films have a nice gothic twist to them, and having this film take place mostly in the 1960's really provided excellent material for him to work with.

With that, I absolutely loved the set and costume designs in this film. Generally, the 1960's is a pretty great era to work in anyway, as there were a lot of really great aesthetics to play with. While the sets are solid and feel perfectly natural, they have a lot of fun with the costumes, almost playing with the alien film looks of the period. We look back at movies produced from that era and it was both awesome and terribly cheesy to see what filmmakers designed for these spacemen and aliens. The costumes were flashy and completely inefficient, and the creatures themselves looked absurd. But what was cool is that this film almost paid homage to those earlier pieces, playing off a lot of the costumes and makeup of the time. You almost felt like the aspects that took place in the 60's were straight out of movies of the same time. But the quality remains high in this film, and they never make any extra effort to point out the borrowed styles from the time. It all meshes together really well.

While I wish there would have been a little more Tommy Lee Jones in this movie, I can't complain at all about what we got instead with Josh Brolin. His interpretation of a young Agent K was perfect. While there were reasons for personality differences that gave Brolin something of his own to play with, he still genuinely felt like a young Tommy Lee Jones. Otherwise, the villain of the film, played by Jemaine Clement, was actually really strong. I kind of expected him to be goofy and silly as is the case with most of what we've ever seen from this actor before, but his character was actually pretty terrifying. He had some silly catch phrases for being one of the most evil aliens in the universe, but whatever. He was definitely a bad-ass that still seemed to fit into the MIB universe that Sonnenfeld and company have created. The overall dialogue from the previous films seemed to have matured a bit from what I remember as well. Though I really feel the need to check in with the earlier films, I definitely feel that these characters, Smith's especially, grew up a bit. While we get noticeably more expletives in the film, Agent J doesn't come off nearly as cocky and spry as he did in the earlier films, a maturing that was nice to see from this character.

I also liked how they tied-in events in the film with real-world events. Much as "X-Men: First Class" did, just on a smaller scale this time around, it really provided a nice little extra quality to the film. I've always enjoyed seeing moments in movies happen around real pieces of history that we're familiar with. It adds an odd bit of nostalgia or something to what's unfolding, maybe connecting us to the plot just a little more?

One thing that I can't really discuss details of, but if I had to pick one aspect that left me the most dissatisfied, it would be the end. Don't get me wrong, there were some really cool and interesting wrap-ups with these characters and this universe, but ultimately, I was left with more questions than I had answers. And it wasn't a situation like a cliffhanger, where you have to wait for the next chapter to find the answer. First off, I don't expect we'll have anymore Men in Black movies at this point anyway, at least not with the same characters. But even if so, it more so just felt like too abrupt an ending with what all unfolds in the climax. Maybe I'll have a better grasp on this after we talk it through, but I feel like I would have been really happy with an extra five or ten minutes where just a couple things are better explained. I get the general idea, but I definitely have questions that weren't answered.

Other than that though, the film is undoubtedly entertaining. The story felt a lot fresher than what I was expecting, and if nothing else, as is always the case with these films, the visuals and makeup were fantastic. It's scene after scene with something fun to look at. While I desperately need to go back and watch the other two films, I at least have it in my mind right now that this film could be in consideration as my favorite from the franchise. Time will tell of course, but I was more than pleased with this latest effort. If you've been a fan of the previous films, definitely check this one out. It's another great installment for the franchise, and a good way to cap it all off (assuming this is the end). If you aren't, or if you're just unfamiliar with the films in general, you should still be able to appreciate this latest one. As would be the case with any series you jumped in on for the final chapter, of course you'd miss a lot of the subtext and history of the characters, but I think this movie could still stand up on its own. The tone is light enough for just about any crowd, but never gets too family friendly. I didn't leave the theater in awe, but I felt very happy with what unfolded.