Saturday, June 2, 2012

Back In Black: MIB Triple Review


  With the new MIB 3 here, I decided to revisit the first two movies, in Blu Ray no less, and share my thoughts on the brand new sequel.

Starting with the 1997 blockbuster hit, Men In Black. It had been several years since I sat down and really paid attention to it. Does it hold up well? Has it aged rather badly out of the 90's ala Mortal Kombat? I always had fond memories of this special effects extravaganza, but was prepared for the worst. Hopefully I wouldn't need to be 'deneuralyzed' afterwards too.  Does Men In Black 2 suck as horribly as I remember? Are the effects and subpar stabs at total comedy worth it? And finally does Men In Black 3 bring back the magic?
Read on to find out.

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  Surprisingly, it holds up just fine and manages to be a completely serviceable, clever, and exciting sci-fi romp. However, when you think of what it could've been, you scratch your head at all the squandered potential. Its a simple enough premise. An NYPD cop, James Edwards (Will Smith), discovers the truth about extraterrestrial life on Earth and subsequently is inducted into the Men In Black, a top secret agency that monitors and polices all alien life on Earth. Immediately, him and his mentor, Agent K (Tommy lee Jones) are drawn into an epic struggle to stop a alien creature on a murderous rampage, and save an entire galaxy.

  Its a straight-forward little story that gives plenty of room for great humor, a few scares, and plenty of decent action set pieces. Its big, its flashy, its slick and stylish. It parades around with wit and charm and gets to be endlessly clever about every little thing. This is good and also kind of bad. The bad I will get to towards the end of the review, since its a relatively minor gripe. But, the good is the stellar dynamic between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. Every second of their screentime is pure gold. They are totally fun to watch interact with one another.  They race from one crime scene to the next catching up with 'Edgar' the bug, as he terrorizes around New York and their left to piece together the clues, and keep the public oblivious to the proceedings.

  The movie feels fresh and unique. All the little high tech gadgets and weapons, there's an overblown sci-fi melodrama to it, yet also a very ironic mundane feel to it all.  This is a day-in day-out office job for most of the workers of the Men in Black. The field agents are just like cops. Just another day on the job. A murder to solve, a witness to protect. The usual. Which is exactly the attitude that rookie Jay's mentor, Agent Kay brings to the table. Everything is a-matter-a-fact to him. Nothing shocks him, nothing much even moves him emotionally. But underneath that cold hard exterior that Jay is always trying to crack, you can tell theres someone who cares.  But that all kind of fades out once they start pulling out plasma cannons and de-atomizers and such. All the little nifty toys are so cool to look at and you feel like you get to play with them for a couple hours on this roller coaster ride you're on with Jay and Kay. Its really clever.

  Its full of cleverness. In fact, its bursting with cleverness. So much in love with its own cleverness, it fails to really dive into its own concept and fully explore it. Instead, its content to be merely a snappy popcorn movie. A Will Smith summer vehicle. Thats not to say its a bad popcorn movie! Its a damn good one! A very damn good one. But its not much more and it SO could've been. Still... its a fun ride and a Will Smith classic. For what it set out to be, it was the best we could have gotten. And seeing as how thats still 'pretty damn good', semi-dated effects and all (which still look pretty good for the most part) this movie is still very cool and totally awesome.

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  Moving on a few long years from 1997 to 2002 we have a fundamentally unnecessary sequel. As those who are familiar with the first one, Tommy Lee's character arc was peacefully and quietly put to rest at the end. He got his happy ending. Smith's character however was just beginning his adventure. And obviously people wanted more. But OH NO!... not without Agent Kay! The fans simply wouldn't have that. So, the writers had to scramble to find a way to shoehorn Kay back into this world in which he no longer needed to be. So, the whole plot had to revolve around Kay NEEDING to be back in the picture. So, on the actual basic premise alone... it feels like an excuse of a movie.  Not a good sign.

  Then... it just got worse. It had a plethora of good, intriguing ideas and concepts behind it, it also manages to be sleeker and even more stylish then before. So where DID it go wrong? The humor, my friends. The humor.  Whatever clever balancing act they had gotten down pat with the first is entirely absent here. Everything is overpowered by comedy, even the action scenes. Not even funny comedy. Just brash obnoxious and wholly immature comedy. And while in some cases this may be funny, not in MIB 2.  For example! The talking pug from number one is back. And he gets a CHUNK of screen time too.  Okay... a talking dog was funny for about a minute in MIB... but talk about beating a dead horse. They made him an agent and put him in a tiny black suit. That was precisely when I couldn't take it anymore. It went sheer off the deep end, caught some silliness on the way down, and landed in a huge pile of stupid. They take every single joke used in number one, replicate it and stretch it waaaaaay too thin.

  Then, they sidestepped every stab at character development that actually managed to crop up and smashed its face in with another flat and unfunny joke. I suppose those who liked MIB as a flat out funny movie might find this one even more appealing. But I liked MIB for its sci-fi/thriller element as well. It was well made dammit! And I found myself, amidst all the updated cgi and flashy action scenes, dying for the wit and intelligent charm of the first one. Last and horribly least is Lara Flynn Boyle... as the villain. Sarleena. Okay, sidestepping the fact that an alien plant that morphs into (of all things...) a Victoria Secret model is supposed to somehow be threatening... she fails to do anything clever with the role. She's not menacing, or scary, or evil... she's just really bitchy. And THAT is not a good villain. The first movie had Edgar, played by Vincent D'Onofrio which was an excellent villain. This lady had BIG shoes to fill... and she didn't. I blame that solely on the writers and director's though. This was one of the movie's horrible concepts. I cannot in good conscience recommend MIB 2. Its JUST not good enough. Smith and Jones' chemistry is still gold, but you have to wade through so much shit just to get to it. And theres always the first one for that.

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  Landing now, in 2012, we have the entirely unnecessary and pretty much unwanted MIB 3. People remembered how their greedy clamoring brought about such a travesty a whole decade ago. Well let me just say, it was a decade that they spent learning from their mistakes. Most of them. Nearly all of them. I sat through this movie, physically unable to wipe the smile from my face. "They're back!" I kept thinking to myself. All these years later, and we finally have a GOOD sequel. Not only is MIB 3 good, its really good. And while the first is still the absolute best, MIB 3 wastes no time going above and beyond the call of duty to be a really fun time that no one will regret having.

  Its very noticeable they had to construct a story around certain factors involving the cast. Firstly, Jones is a legitimate old man now. His character retired back in 1997. And he's still around in 2012. Old, tired, jaded, worn out and edgy.  Theres no way Tommy could carry half this dynamic anymore. So Jay is carrying the heft of it thematically. That is until the story takes him back to 1969 to stop an escaped alien convict from killing a younger Kay played impeccably by Josh Brolin. Brolin plays Kay so well, physically and tonally, that you'll forget you're watching a different actor and simply accept that its the same character.
He's so good in the role, and he has the unique opportunity to expand on Kay's past and show us a side of Kay we have never seen, subsequently making it entirely his own. Great performance.

  A few celebrities have cameos in here. Eh. Unlike the cleverness of the video ball in the first one that pointed out Sylvester Stallone and Danny Devito are in fact aliens... we get a few nods to stuff like that in this one. And its clever, but its like... you're expecting it. So it doesn't feel fresh and funny anymore. Not that its not well executed, just... very expected. Otherwise the only drawbacks are a few jokes that fall flat, an underused character here, and the fact that MIB 3 feels like it ends far too soon. Yes sir/ma'am. You read that right. This one is so good that you do not want it to end so soon. You want more screentime with these characters. The movie established the basics and the essentials so very very well that by the end of the film, you've fallen in love with Jay and Kay all over again.  Not to mention this one adds a layer to their dynamic that makes it so very... to quote every other review ever: "Profound."

  The supporting cast in this movie is very good too, although Emma Thompson and Alice Eve are totally underused as the same character, Jemaine Clement takes a standard ish villain and makes him disgustingly vile and totally fun to watch. He's no Edgar, but we're on the right track.  But the best supporting character is a quirky little guy named Griffin, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, who can see infinite future possibilities simultaneously which causes him equal measure of panic and glee. He's a joy to watch and a very fun character overall.  Back to the main man here, Will Smith.  Agent Jay picks up most of the slack all over this film.  The humor has been cut back seriously from number 2. No Frank the pug, no Jack Jeebs, and while you may say these are MIB mainstays, and wonder why they aren't here, I think any real fan would understand how the second one butchered those characters through overexposure, and also that there are so many other new unique characters that can be explored.  Beating a dead horse is what killed the second one. This one doesn't do that at all.  So, in the absence of such mainstays, Jay is really spotlighted in this movie, and he's still the wisecracking 'rookie' we know and love from 1997. Even though now he's a senior agent... it seems theres a whole galaxy of information STILL above his paygrade. Which is prime material for some proper laughs. Decent stuff really. Will Smith pulls it off.

  I can fully recommend MIB 3, despite a few tiny slip ups, its an all around solid film that is a damn decent, and surprisingly emotional, companion piece to the first one. Its also every bit the popcorn summer film that number one was. This movie is really fun. Its action packed, witty, stylish, and funny in all the ways a proper MIB movie should be. No longer am I sitting in boredom longing for the intellectual stylings of the first, ala MIB 2, instead I'm wondering what they have in store for the future. If nothing? I'm fine with that too. This was a completely serviceable end to the trilogy and it really washed out the bad taste that was lingering from number 2. MIB 3 succeeds in every way it should've and could've.

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Overall its a solid trilogy. None of them take themselves so serious as to say you can't own all three. But make no mistake, number 2, despite a handful of okay and clever moments, is undoubtedly the weakest link.
But they all have some measure of mindless fun. Fun times from 1997 to 2012.

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