March 10, 2013

MEN IN BLACK III: More Of The Same Or Exactly The Right Note?

Some time ago, The Daughter and I went to see Men In Black 3. We wrote an article together for a blog I was part of then. My wife and I watched the movie last night -- it was a Redbox pick -- and even the second time, it held up surprisingly well. Even the reviewers liked it. So I guess, in retrospect, The Daughter and I did pretty well! If you have anything to add, leave a comment or ten!

Let me just say that while my daughter and I share a voracious reading habit, our reading MATERIAL is wildly different. We’ve been known to cross over into each other’s territory, but for the most part, I read and write science fiction and she reads and writes fantasy.

Even in terms of the MIB franchise – I love it for the aliens, she loves it for Will Smith...(;-))

I’m NOT going to iterate the plot here. If you really want to know the entire movie before you see it, go here: to get the complete lowdown.

The Daughter and I are here to review the movie and first of all I want to point out that if you’re shy of emotional issues, then this MIB is not for you. Where the others were a joyous romp all over the tropes of alien occupation, invasion and secret societies; MIB3 for the first time deals with feelings. The Daughter: And not just superficial feelings between Will Smith and an alien princess (ahem…Men in Black 2), but real, substantial feelings that resonate not just with blissful lovebirds but with the human experience at a deeper level.

Therein lies its strength.

Io9 recently posted on “trilogies”, the best and the worst – it’s worth a read! Read it here: If I was writing the piece, I would now add the MIB franchise to the BEST, especially if you drop the second, painfully hideous flick (sorry Rick).

Where the first two movies were alien romps with gross beings and fantastic laser guns, and while the third one has these, there is a far deeper story here. Even more amazing, the character who is pushing for the deeper story is J, Will Smith’s character. Smart, sassy and obnoxious for the first two movies, it’s as if he grew up in the interval between MIB2 and MIB3. He is, in fact, older in this movie than in the others! Both The Daughter and I noticed that Will Smith has aged albeit gracefully The Daughter: Meanwhile Tommy Lee Jones is wizened and equipped with his usual endearing stoicism, he just sort of looks old. MIB1 was made in 1997 and MIB2 in 2002, so that means that Smith was a “kid” of 29 and is now 43. Those years, especially with children added in, can age a person, especially when he and his wife worked full time as actors as well as having a family life and everything that entails in these early years of the 21st Century.

That explains the new depth of character that Smith gives Agent J, and it seems to me that the main issue broached in the movie is one that Smith may have had to face when he was 13, and one he has likely pondered as a dad.

Another actor The Daughter and I discussed was Emma Thompson. Winner of 40 awards including Emmys, Oscars and Golden Globes whose acting credits run from Beatrice in Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING to the voice of the cat woman, Captain Amelia in the cartoon TREASURE PLANET. She has played such eccentric and varied characters as Nanny McPhee and Karen Eiffel. We could just see her agent handing her the script for MIB3 and her trying to fend it off, and crying in her distinctive British accent, “No, no, please! Not another American film! Especially about alien invasions! I refuse to be known as That British Sci-Fi Actor! Look what happened to Sigourney Weaver!”

We imagined the agent begging her and finally, exasperated, she would grab the script and begin to read. When she’s done, she would have sighed and clutched the pages to her chest, leaned back and said, “Now THIS is intelligent.”

Because above all things, MIB3 is smart, sassy and has fascinating characters – finally.

Don’t get me wrong, the gross aliens are still there: Humans in fanciful costumes, Bowling Ball Head, a gigantic fish who tries to eat J (and who just has to be related to the subway alien, Jeff), as well as the ubiquitous Worms (who are always abandoning Earth at the moment of truth) and the unsurprising revelation that Lady Gaga is an alien living on Earth. The Daughter: I KNEW IT! Also, one must note the distinctively retro angle they took on the aliens at the 1969 MIB headquarters. Garish colors; flaky pointed heads; and bulky costumes make them look oh so corny. Yet the viewer takes pleasure in this knowing that it was deliberately done and stands in contrast to the sharp sleekness of the contemporary MIB headquarters.

 But two new aliens gave us pause by their depth. Griffin, a five dimensional being who can appear any way he wants to in our three dimensions and who views time however he wants to as either spectator or participant is both winning and thought-provoking. Brilliantly played by actor Michael Stuhlbarg, we fell in love with him and his earnest, vaguely creepy comments. The way he viewed time as endlessly branching possibilities that eventually collapse into the “present” we are familiar with, made me remember the importance of seemingly small events and the possibility that they can be significant. He iterates this well when he says something like, “No one is that important to the time line.”  Agent J replies that something Griffin assumes is there – isn’t, Griffin amends, “Oh, he’s one of the ones who IS that important.”

But Boris The Animal (“My name is BORIS IT’S JUST BORIS!”) is especially...alien. In a movie full of Humans in costumes, this alien is truly creepy as only an “almost-but-not-exactly-Human-with-unsettling-differences” can be. The Daughter: the worst moment is when his weird “film canister” eyes fall out during his final scene, in order to pull back into his disgusting carcass-esque body. His biology is both bizarre and almost understandable and while his attitude is unrelentingly foul (making him a bit one-dimensional) he is the perfect villain for the MIB. There are even echoes of J’s issue in a scene between Borises – but I’ll leave it to you to figure that out. The movie is rich with allusions and metaphors and perhaps even a parable or two.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that MIB3 is the greatest science fiction movie of all time, I would be willing to say that it is one of the Ten Best SF Movies of All Time – and for this critic of SF movies, that’s going WAY out on a limb. 

See it. I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it. The Daughter: This is a gross, exciting sci-fi movie that’s for women, too…and not in the same way that say, TRANSFORMERS stuck in a romance in order to please the girlfriends that were dragged along to that movie. It’s just not a silly hack-and-slash/blinking lights film. It’s like…quality.

One final note, even knowing the ending, I actually wept at the end of the movie this time. While I missed it on the Big Screen, this time I saw the emotions flashing over J's face as he realized EXACTLY what K had done...and why. I think it was BRILLIANT and now elevate MIB III to the Top Five Best SF Movies of All Time. 

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