Back in Black: ‘Men in Black 3’ surpasses low expectations

Anjelica Colliard/Staff

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To say that no one was clamoring for a “Men in Black 3” would be an understatement. The announcement of the franchise’s third installment came with a sense of impending flop. Director Barry Sonnefeld and writer Etan Cohen were handed the difficult task of finding a new, smart way to reintroduce the magic of the original film without completely reinventing the elemental characteristics that made the first a success. Now, a decade after part two, “Men in Black 3” has erased its past blunder and paved the way for future installments, in what seems to be a ‘quit while you’re ahead’ situation.

Agents J and K (Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones  respectively) are back in black and ready to save Earth, again. Boris The Animal, a once vicious threat to humanity, has recently escaped from a maximum-security prison on the moon. Destined to continue his plans of invading Earth, which were halted 40 years earlier by the courageous K, Boris jumps back to 1969 to have a second chance at killing K and essentially preventing him from establishing a protective force field around Earth’s exosphere. To save the younger K (Josh Brolin), Agent J blasts himself to the past in a cat and mouse chase to the end.

The film starts off with space guns blazing, launching most of its slimy extraterrestrials in the first act, with Boris The Animal as resident hard to kill space enemy. “Flight of The Conchords’” Jemaine Clement plays the Manic Boris, providing a hard to top charismatic performance of a demented space foe with an oddly appropriate syrupy British accent.

Well-timed puns and astutely executed plot points briskly advance the plot. The film nonetheless takes time to exploit the endless comedic variations that come with a 1960s-themed “Men In Black”, (think “Mad Men” and Andy Warhol). It steps on familiar land by harkening back to Marty McFly and Doc Brown in “Back to the Future.” Director Barry Sonnefeld credits Robert Zemeckis’ classic trilogy as a major influence, claiming to have watched the films many times in preparation.

Josh Brolin’s portrayal of a younger agent K is spot-on, essentially channeling a less antsy version of his 2008 take on George W. Bush in the film “W.” The chemistry shared by the actors seems effortless; Smith’s energy is perfectly balanced by the Gary Cooper like stoicism provided by Lee and Brolin.

Great lengths were evidently taken to assure that no major plot holes lingered along the margins of the film, as is noticeable by the character Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), an all-knowing alien who conveniently sheds light on any matter plagued by the inherent confusions of the space-time continuum. Despite all this, the film fails to explain why the relationship between K and J is jeopardized by K’s secretive nature towards his partner. K’s reluctance to share intimate details about himself is a loveable characteristic that has seldom been questioned and has been a part of the duo’s chemistry since the first film. Without giving too much away, it seems to have something to do with the film’s effort at an emotional B story.

Staying true to form, the extensive use of green screen remained untouched. I’m seldom an advocator of the modern 3D picture,  but “Men in Black 3” possess a rare advantage over most films in that it’s as much a ride as it is a movie. Quick to say that the bothersome glasses take away from crispness and clarity, the plastic spectacles felt at home. Already hit over the head with the CGI look and forfeited to the hugely silly yet enjoyable plot, it only feels natural to want to see a six-inch thorn projected from the palm of Boris The Animal come straight at you just to top it all off. Though having to jump off the Empire State Building as a method of time travel makes as much sense as time travel itself, it suddenly becomes acceptable under the influential specs that allow us to further differentiate between quality and the simple enjoyment of a 102-floor free fall through time.

Having achieved the hybrid creation of cutting-edge yet nostalgic aliens, the film succeeds in maintaining the innocent and wacky take on old Hollywood creatures. At the core of “Men in Black” is the relationship between Agents K and J. Somewhere between the aliens and the space travel there’s a story about two partners — a futuristic take on those timeless themes of friendship, loyalty and extraterrestrials.