Men in Black II is a good movie.
That’s right: II. The second one. You may now feel free to disregard what follows if you choose. But really: same comedic tone as the first, same characters thankfully stripped of the need for an obligatory origin story, equally creative creature designs (love that post office) and a genuinely moving twist. And yet it’s taken as a given that you must hate this movie, just as if it were Batman and Robin (which has certain lesser merits, but that’s a whole different conversation with a lot more words involved that don’t relate to this topic. Short version: if you look at it as a costume designer’s attempt to subvert the Adam West series on a massive scale, it succeeds). I had a reader respond to my MIIB review by saying that it would be better to find out I were on the take than actually had such suspect judgment as to like the film for real. Nonetheless, the movie still works. Maybe fans wanted a more disturbing villain, like cockroach D’Onofrio? Can’t say. But dislike of part 2 does not exist in this dojo (it may exist in comments below; we’re not really hardasses like John Kreese. I will merely imagine myself looking slightly askance at you as penalty). Though I’ll give you this: “Nod Ya Head” is not Will Smith’s best tune (I’m partial to “You Saw My Blinker, Bitch“).
So now we get to part 3, and along with it some gossipy tales of how it went over budget and they had script problems and blah blah blah. Are they noticeable? Yes, but… it’s clear everybody knew how to begin and end the movie. The middle is a whole ‘nother issue, but one it seemed like hiring Josh Brolin to do a Tommy Lee Jones impersonation would 100% fix.
I don’t wanna say no cigar, but will state that it sure ain’t gonna be a fine Cuban. Brolin is very good at the mimicry, but despite what Will Smith and others may say about the chemistry being exactly the same, they’re wrong. Brolin’s K is a kinder, gentler version, which serves the story appropriately, but also necessarily waters down the dynamic between cranky old square and hip rebellious upstart. But we should probably back up a bit.
MIB3 begins with a prison breakout sequence involving a superbad alien named Boris the Animal, who angrily resents this nickname despite apparently not giving a single shit about the humans who gave it to him (general rule: if you really don’t care about something, it doesn’t annoy you. This nugget of info provided for the benefit of any high-schoolers that may be reading. Also: wash your face). The escape is nifty, as it piles on surprise mini-twists one after the other. It even had me briefly thinking Tim Curry played Boris, which was a happy thought. Then that ended.
If you’re fortunate enough not to know the name “Ronald Chevalier,” you will likely be less annoyed by MIB3 than I. In other words, you have probably not been subjected to Gentlemen Broncos, a cinematic travesty that can best be described as “the making of Battlefield Earth as told to Napoleon Dynamite (impersonated semi-effectively by Jemaine Clement in Eagle vs. Shark).” Unfortunately for Clement, it was the big breakthrough venue for his extremely mannered comedy accent that he now uses in all sorts of things. Think of it like John Travolta trying to play off dreadlock wigs as a gag in something else – it just doesn’t quite work for those who caught the obnoxious dress rehearsal. Though, yes, I did infamously give a positive review to Battlefield Earth (theatrical cut, let’s make that clear; there was some immediate retconning attempted), but that was primarily because it’s so much better than the book. Gentlemen Broncos invokes the memory of reading the book…and horribly so.
Since this isn’t Tristram Shandy, however, we should get to the movie at hand. MIB3 is in 3D (not shot in such, but very impressively post-converted to the point that I could not tell, particulate matter being conveyed exceptionally, if that doesn’t sound too absurdly pretentious once you know I mean raindrops, dust, goo droplets, etc.) and looks really good. Plotwise, it deals with the aforementioned Boris, who is missing an arm but has lethal skeletal crustaceans hiding inside his body, going back in time to pull a Terminator and kill K (Jones) before he can complete a signature achievement of placing a planetary defense system (think Ronald Reagan’s wet dream) in place to stop Boris’ people getting remotely close to Earth. Boris gets his way right off the bat, so J (Smith) has to go back even further via a time-lapse jump off the Chrysler building in such cool 3D that I’d call it bravura if hack critics before me hadn’t ruined that word. (Director Barry Sonnenfeld discusses his 3D choices in our exclusive interview; I wouldn’t necessarily agree with him in theory if not for the fact that every droplet of goo comes spraying out at the audience just as you’d hope.)
The set-up works, including a nifty set piece involving the most exaggerated monster sushi nightmare one could imagine. As does the finale, which involves a space launch and our heroes hanging off girders from great heights. But the bits in between, less so. A time-travel visit to Andy Warhol (Bill Hader) is wonderfully in-keeping, thematically, but then there’s a silly chase sequence involving space-bikes that look like Mr. Garrison’s “It” from South Park, and a pointless trip to a digitally recreated 1969 Shea Stadium that serves no plot purpose other to inform us that someone involved in the production is a big baseball fan. If you’d guess that the middle part was the source of most of the script discord, you’d be right… and you might also note this is longer than the other MIB movies – unnecessarily so.
With that said, it’s still a lot of fun. Standby recurring gags like Zed and Frank the Pug are gone, and while Will Smith doesn’t try for another awesomely bad rap theme, he has used absence to make the heart grow fonder, without resorting to “Awww hail gnawww!” cliches. The 3D is outstanding, and I commend Sonnenfeld for it. So this works as entertainment – the slight sagging in the middle is to be expected of middle age, but doesn’t (and shouldn’t) make the one you love seem less than he once was by comparison. It’s fair to say that if you thought this was going to be a disaster, I got two words for ya – J/K.
Me, I still say part 2 has the edge. But this didn’t suck. I will ask, though – if you’re an alien looking to donate a planetary defense system to Earth, why not drop it into orbit along the way, rather than coming down to the surface and then making us launch it back up on our highly combustible ’60s technology?