Men In Black III

Men In Black III

***

Reviewed by: David Graham

It's been a full 15 years since audiences were introduced to the alternative reality of the Ghostbusters rip-off Men In Black, and a decade since its underwhelming sequel, so it seems almost quaint to see Barry Sonnenfeld's series reprising its sci-fi schtick in 2012. With the summer blockbuster franchise cycle well and truly underway - and the bar set pretty high by Avengers Assemble - this belated threequel may find itself getting lost in the shuffle of adult throwbacks (Prometheus, The Expendables 2) and comic book flicks (The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man). However, it should be remembered that the MIB are themselves a Marvel creation, and there's no denying the talent behind this latest Will Smith vehicle, which features sterling contributions from Mike Judge-favoured screenwriter Etan Cohen, legendary effects artist Rick Baker and a plethora of intriguing new stars. Whether the stars will align for the rejuvenated franchise is unclear, but for now there's a surprising amount of extraterrestrial fun to be had here.

Agent Jay is a rookie no more, growing world-weary with his role in the secretive MIB, protecting the planet Earth from the ever-invading scum of the universe. Waking up one morning with a bizarre headache, he finds no-one around him has any memory of his elderly partner Kay. When his boss wistfully recounts that the missing agent has been dead for 40 years, Jay realizes he must travel back in time to put things right. This involves intercepting the deadly alien Boris The Animal, who has evidently escaped from his lunar prison and unleashed xenophobe warfare in the modern day in order to cover up his own trip back in time to assassinate his sworn enemy Kay. If the ET-busting team are to be reunited, Jay must negotiate non-integrated 1969, while fending off the double menace of a past and a future Boris.

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Sonnenfeld sets off on the wrong foot by front-loading his supposedly family-friendly film with inappropriately racial humour, cuss-heavy banter and some disconcertingly splattery violence - the body count reaches uncomfortable levels despite the cannon fodder being non-human and the claret being everything except scarlet. The series' formula is starting to show its age, with Smith's regular 'This is what happens' speeches failing to tickle the funny-bone, and even Jones' straight-faced foil-play falling a little flat. The alien action is also less outlandish than before, while the cutesier, crowd-pleasing characters of yore are conspicuous by their absence.

Thankfully, the script starts to hit its stride once Jay jumps back to the swinging Sixties. As with all time travel tales, the mechanics of the plot don't bear close scrutiny, but we should be thankful that they give us both a new setting and a fresh take on one of the most deadpan characters to ever grace a tent-pole movie. The period is expertly exploited through a variety of imaginative spins on historical events, with Andy Warhol's Factory, the Apollo 11 launch and even the black power and hippy counter-cultures represented in clever and humorous fashion. To say any more would spoil the fun, but rest assured there's some ingenious satire at play underneath the usual fish-out-of-water shenanigans.

Josh Brolin shines once again as the 29-year-old Kay; not only is he a ringer for the delightfully impassive Jones, he even perfectly channels his combination of ornery wisdom and old-before-time befuddlement. His part in proceedings injects some welcome heart into the relationship between our heroes, showing Kay to possess a pathos hitherto untapped; he even - shock horror! - cracks a smile at several points. The character's patronising reactions to Jay's latter-day attitude are laced with sardonic wit, while the denouement somehow manages to make the whole franchise bizarrely poignant and meaningful within the space of a few understated lines from Brolin. His performance also coaxes a little more humanity from Smith, who by now can do this kind of nonsense in his sleep.

Elsewhere, cult Flight Of The Conchords star Jemaine Clement makes for a brilliant baddie, tapping Hugo Weaving's knack for forging menace from campery. His gargled retorts and sub-human roaring are guaranteed to elicit as many squeals of laughter as squirms of disgust; indeed, Boris may well be too frightening a foe for many younger viewers, despite disappointingly only showing his true colours right at the end. A Serious Man star Michael Stuhlbarg also pops up as an omniscient oracle with autistic tendencies, his bizarre prattling sometimes proving charming but his presence proving a little irritating during much of the otherwise impressive climactic action. Emma Thompson is also on shaky ground here, occasionally reminiscent of Catherine Tate at her most irksome when she's not indulging in sub-Nanny McPhee silliness.

The usual in-jokes are present but not exactly rife; eagle-eyed viewers should spot Lady Gaga on MIB monitors, and Kim Kardashian's literally disposable cameo is a guilty pre-credit pleasure, even if the credibility of her appearance is about a billion light years from the likes of Michael Jackson's in the second film. Predictably, Rick Baker's SFX design shines again, although some of the CGI is a little on the cartoony side and the alien populace have been noticeably scaled back; the Oscar-winning original had the feel of some interplanetary menagerie, whereas this feels a little more like a safari through a deserted plain. 3D trimmings are also little more than window-dressing, failing to add much to the frequent set-pieces despite many of them exploiting our vertiginous fears and aiming to quench our need for speed. For all their flaws though, it's still worth suiting up once again for the Men In Black, but whether this film represents fitting closure or the dawn of a new chapter remains to be seen.

Reviewed on: 28 May 2012
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Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Writer: Etan Cohen, Lowell Cunningham, David Koepp, Jeff Nathanson, Michael Soccio

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Josh Brolin, Alice Eve, Justin Bieber, Emma Thompson, Bill Hader, Lady Gaga, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Michael Stuhlbarg, Yuri Lowenthal, Joseph R Gannascoli, Kevin Covais, Tim Burton

Year: 2012

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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