Friday, May 25, 2012

If you’re like me, you may have pondered, “Why, 10 years after an MIB sequel that stunk up the theatre like Edgar the Bug’s rotting human skin, are they releasing another sequel? How can it possibly be worth seeing?” Well, you ask, is it?

Oh yeah! Definitely the best of the franchise, MIB3 is a lot of escapist fun and breathes life into the adventures of these boys in dark suits. It succeeds most by using every detail of both the scripting and visual elements in the service of the story. This installment has neither the jokey too-cool-for-school vibe of the first or the too-serious-to-enjoy mess of the second.
What we have in MIB3 is an exciting action adventure with an oogie alien arch-villain, great sometimes funny, sometimes sweet hero-to-hero interaction, and a surprising amount of heart. Any time travel plot can be very convoluted, but this one seemed very simple to follow. It keeps your attention from the first to the last scene without, at any point, lagging at all.

This time around the story is that Agent Jay (Will Smith) has to travel back in time to Men In Black’s early years in the late 1960s, to stop the vengeful escaped alien convict Boris from assassinating his friend and partner Agent Kay (Tommy Lee/Josh Brolin) in the past, which would change history and put the whole world at risk. There are lots of landmark locations and historical moments used, (the Chrysler Building and the Apollo moon landing, to name just two) and people in history also figure (like Andy Warhol and Neil Armstrong).

There is such a profusion of 60s inspired aliens, courtesy of legendary special effects and sci-fi make-up wizard Rick Baker, you could view the movie more than once just to see all his creations. Baker is a multi-nominated and seven time Oscar winning make up artist, winning for An American Werewolf in London, Ed Wood and the original Men In Black, among others. He has literally changed the face of special make up effects.

Baker designs a particularly dastardly creature with the villain of MIB3. Pointy-toothed Boris the Animal, is one mean motorcycle. He resembles a more demented trashcan man from The Stand, with eyes that look like inset goggles. He has deadly autonomous creepers that crawl out of various parts of his body to spew razor sharp stakes at his victims. Apparently he is from a race of aliens that blows through planets leaving extinct species in their wake. Seeing him I was reminded of the feeling I get watching a large centipede crawl across a wall. Eww.

It seems in MIB3 every funky permutation of the retro alien is present and accounted for, including a few that must have been inspired by episodes of The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. It is too bad there aren’t more scenes with a large assembly of creatures, but the ones in which they are featured are a visual onslaught of bug eyes, antennae, scales, webs, shiny bits and more. To the joy of all those who believe we are not alone, Baker lets his imagination run wild, and his alien-loving freak flag fly.

The spot-on portrayal of the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones’s Agent Kay by oft-underrated Josh Brolin can best be described as clone-acting. With Brolin, we had some warning of his morphing capabilities with his recent star turn in Oliver Stone’s W, where he all but became former President George Bush. In his career, he hasn’t always chosen his roles well, but has shown his talent often enough to garner an Oscar nomination for his role in Milk, and beat out A-list actors for roles in True Grit and No Country for Old Men.

So it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that he nailed every tick and deadpan side-mouthed quip as if Tommy Lee had temporarily taken over his body. For any long-term fans of Tommy Lee Jones, it is literally worth the price of admission to see another actor play him so perfectly. Says Will Smith, “People thought that Tommy did the voice for the Josh Brolin character. That’s how thoroughly Josh is delivering it.”

This is Will Smith’s first movie in over three years. Why? He says he’s been working as a producer with his wife and kids. He produced both The Karate Kid, which starred his son Jaden Smith, and This Means War. This new movie is a great return to showing his more comedic side. He plays against Josh Brolin and builds romantic chemistry with him just as well as he does with Tommy Lee Jones, who only appears for a short time in the movie.

That there has been little promotion of MIB3 is either a result of the Avengers fever infecting over the world like a superhero superflu, or the result of developing the plot into what the filmmakers believe makes chronological sense and will capture and keep the audience’s attention. The director, Barry Sonnenfeld, was overseeing the editing until very close to the deadline for the movie’s release. All this has turned out to be effort well spent, and I certainly hope word of mouth and advertising now will bring in the audiences.

Whether you are new to the MIB franchise, or old fans hoping for the best, you will not be disappointed. It’s just such great escapist fun, yet still has a sweet end that will likely surprise you. As with most time travel movies, you won’t be able to put all the pieces together until the very last scene, and might continue even after the credits roll. It all fits perfectly, and well expands the characters we know and love.

This idea of aliens being among us, and a secret government bureau that controls their interactions, evokes the giddy conspiracy theorist inside us all. It’s what allows for the Men in Black franchise to exist in the first place.

But time travel? Worms playing bagpipes? Glamourians? MIB3 offers to take that inner alien-loving geek for a great ride. Put your shades on and buckle up, it’s well worth the trip.