I saw the first Men in Black on a date — in the U.S. — with a boy I liked very much. I laughed so hard the whole theatre stared at me, and I couldn’t help but dance to the title song by Will Smith. I saw the movie again back home in Belarus with my BFF, crowning Jada Pinkett Smith as the luckiest girl on Earth. She was capable of creating a secret language to keep important info safe from alien invaders. I could not believe anything like that could be made by humans. Well, and a few aliens.
Men in Black II landed in my home collection this year when my 5-year-old expressed a keen interest in the franchise. It was funny, a solid treadmill movie, but nothing like the original. I held my breath for Part 3.
With a heavy heart I have to admit that Men in Black 3 is a disappointment. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and written by Etan Cohen, it should be great — but somehow it’s not. It’s the curse of every sequel. It would have been a marvel had we not seen the original. The trouble is we all saw it and it was darn good. The elements of the first instalment are all in Men in Black 3 — the chases, the black suits, the in-jokes, the ugly aliens, the beautiful Bill Pope cinematography, the Danny Elfman score — but the sheer subversive edge of Part 1 is nowhere to be found. Even my 5-year-old left with tears in her eyes, and all for the wrong reasons.
It’s hard to put my finger on it: Will Smith who plays Agent J is back in great form and Josh Brolin who plays Young Agent K more than compensates for a sad performance by Tommy Lee Jones (Old Agent K) who looks so feeble any average alien can have him on the floor if they blow softly on him, let alone use extraterrestrial supersonic weaponry. The jokes are there but some of them fall flat in a half-empty matinee theatre, leaving an awkward aftertaste. What a shame.
The movie begins with two extremes: extreme beauty (courtesy of Lily, played by Nicole Schenzinger — she will not be getting an Oscar any time soon) and extreme ugliness (provided by Boris the Animal, played by Jemaine Clement). Lily is visiting Boris in the Lunar Prison with a jumpy cake (alongside her jumpy breasts) only to set the beast free. The dude is genuinely creep; traditionally to the franchise, he is a host to a smaller alien spitting out nasty little darts into everyone who stands in his way. Parts of him open up like claws; Agent J even suggests a pedicure at some point.
Agent K once imprisoned Boris on July 16 back in 1969 and now this maniac is back for vengeance and the destruction of planet Earth. One day after K realizes the ugly creature is loose on the citizens of NYC his apartment vanishes, and J develops a peculiar craving for chocolate milk. Back in the MIB office he is the only one who remembers K, and after a small investigation he learns from new MIB Chief Agent O (Emma Thomson) that K has been dead for over forty years — Boris the Animal killed him back in 1969! J has to travel back in time, of course, and murder Boris — otherwise the Earth will be destroyed. The beautiful alien ships hovering about Chrysler Building from which J has to leap down to travel in time, as seen in the Men in Black 3 trailer, is a testament of what is to come.
The movie truly picks up with the introduction of an all-seeing alien, a creature so delicate and fragile, he almost redeems the whole movie on his own. The vision of his world is warped, terrifying and beautiful, a myriad of possibilities that keeps him on edge at all times. He is the best part of the third instalment, a breath of fresh air among the in-jokes about period paraphernalia like huge neutralizers, mobile phones and female coiffures. The whole Andy Warhol sequence falls flat for me but the climax at Cape Canaveral is fun to watch, and the payoff, however predictable, is satisfying (there is also a small plot twist most will enjoy). Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are aliens, of course. But no surprise there.
I’ve been waiting patiently for the people who made 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later to start talking again (and preferably about the possibility of a sequel). But now, having seen Men in Black 3, I start to understand the sagacity of Danny Boyle. Magic is a rare thing. As I have learnt from the all-seeing alien in Men in Black 3 who knows every possible ending of every possible scenario, a lot of things have to come together to produce magic: small, infinitesimal things — a fraction of a second, a millimetre here, a millimetre there.
Men in Black 3 may be easily forgettable but it genuinely hurts to see it go down in flames next to The Avengers while also casting a shadow on the breathtaking original. I hope this is it for the franchise. Precisely because I love it so much.