“You look like you come from the planet Damn.”
Dropped into a very busy summer in 2012, Men in Black 3 didn’t spark the world’s imaginations the way the first movie did in 1997. It wasn’t the biggest blockbuster of the year, and the critics weren’t kind. Having seen it now on this Blu-ray, though, I’ve got to say that the movie is great fun.
The Men in Black are members of a secret law enforcement agency, policing alien activity on Earth. Agent J (Will Smith, Independence Day) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones, No Country For Old Men) are partners, and have been at the alien conspiracy game for a while now, but that changes one day when K disappears, and it seems no one but J remembers he ever existed. The cause of this disturbance is Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement, Rio), an old enemy of K’s who has gone back in time to erase K from history. J falls back through time to 1969 to partner up with a much younger K (Josh Brolin, Jonah Hex) to stop Boris and rewrite history.
What a pleasant surprise. The cynics will argue that Men in Black 3 is naught but going back to the well for Smith, Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family). Within the first few minutes of the movie, though, once we’re back at MIB headquarters, it felt great to be back in this world. Smith and Jones still have that solid chemistry that made the first film so much fun, and it really feels like they’ve been partners and, yes, friends all this time. A scene near the beginning has J and K tracking down aliens in a restaurant, which of course gives us the goofy gross-out humor that the series is known for.
By now, J is an expert in all this alien stuff, so along comes the time travel conceit, so that he can be the fish out of water in the MIB world once again. He knows all about aliens, but walking around in the 1960s is like being on another planet for him. This allows for Smith to do his usual shtick, reacting in over-the-top ways to all the craziness around him. For as much as he likes to look and act all slick and cool, Smith is always at his best when playing an “everyman” type. As J, he’s always been the audience surrogate for the Men in Black’s crazy alien underworld, and now he fills that same role for the incongruities of the past, such as hippies, beatniks, and worse.
This is where Brolin enters the picture, with a chameleonic performance that must be seen to be believed. His mimicry of Jones’ role as K is so spot-on that you don’t question it after a while. Whether it’s Jones or Brolin on screen, it’s the character of K you’re watching. That’s how seamless the two actors are in the same role. That said, there’s a lot of talk about K’s seriousness, and how he never has any fun or shows any heart. I wonder if that’s inconsistent with the previous films. I remember K enjoying Elvis and occasionally having wisecracks ready to respond to J’s antics. Also, I remember K coming out of his funk by staring at the stars in a moment of wonder in Men in Black 2. In this third film, though, they hammer home the point of K’s seriousness, just to explore this as we meet his younger self.
This series doesn’t give a lot of depth to its bad guys, and Boris is another one-note villain, driven first by revenge, and second by the old standby of world conquest. Still, Jamaine Clement is an imposing figure with a cool voice, and he gets a fun scene playing off himself, when Boris of the present has a chat with Boris of 1969. Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility) takes over as the new head of the MIB. She’s mostly here to deliver exposition, but, like most of Emma Thompson’s performances, she has an “I can do comedy, too” moment. Another new introduction to the MIB world is Griffin, (Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man), a creature with a unique perspective on the future and the world around him. For as strange as he is, he gives the movie its heart. While everyone else is all about driving the plot forward, Griffin is the one who has the characters looking inward, getting into their heads and exploring their roles in past and future.
This is a bright, colorful movie, and all those colors really pop in 1.85:1/1080p high def. Some standout scenes are K’s view of New York from the top of the Chrysler Building. This is a big special effects sequence, filling the screen with all manner of visual information, and all that detail comes across clean and clear on screen. The DTS-HD 51. Master Audio track is good as well, especially when Danny Elfman’s toe-tapping whump-bump-bump-bump-bump score kicks in.
This three-disc set contains a DVD, Blu-ray, and 3D Blu-ray. All three discs contain the main featurette, “Partners in Crime: The Making of MIB3.” This self-congratulatory doc is an overview of the making of the movie. All three discs also feature the “Back in Time” music video by Pitbull, taking over hit single duties from Will Smith this time around. The Blu-ray disc has both these extras, and adds several more, with one featurette on the special effects and another on recreating the 1960s. There is also a series of “Scene Investigations” which go into greater detail on the making of several key scenes, making for a nicely thorough collection of behind-the-scenes material. There’s also a gag reel and a “Spot the Alien” game you play with your remote. The 3D disc adds two more featurettes, one about converting the movie to 3D, and one a closer look at the movie’s 3D models. In order to watch the movie in 3D, you need a separately sold 3D HDTV, 3D Blu-ray player, compatible 3D glasses and a special HDMI high-speed cable. How well the 3D works at home will depend how swanky of a home theater setup you have.
The plot to this movie is surprisingly similar to an episode of the Men in Black: The Animated Series, “The Head Trip Syndrome,” in which J travels back in time and meets a younger K. I’m not calling it a ripoff, though, because that episode went in a different direction, instead exploring the history of the MIB organization and Earth’s first contact with aliens. What that means, now, is that the animated series is no longer considered in continuity with the movies, which is unfortunate.
After Men in Black 3 came and went from theaters in a blink, I didn’t give it much thought. Now that I’ve seen it, I regret missing it on the big screen. I hope this won’t be another “no one likes it but me” movie, because I really had a lot of fun with it.