Men In Black III
Since the MiB first burst onto our screens back in Ninety Eight we have all of us gone on many great journeys into the secret recesses of the universe – the distant planet of Pandora, the cluttered cosmos of the Marvel Universe and whatever place the Prometheus barges into among the more recent – and so we have since almost gotten used to aliens, no matter how strange and stomach churning their designs. We’ve also proven that nowadays we tend not to love the silliness of space opera unless it is tempered by inner turmoil and deeper political ramifications; so this schlocky farce of a series was going to have to undergo some changes as it traveled forward into our present future and how better to keep things interesting than through the introduction of time travel?
Not only does time travel add another layer to the adventure but it also gives the MiB something that they cant simply shoot with their space guns, a solution that they all to easily take in the opening action sequence; surely the Galactic equivalent of Geneva would take some umbrage with their reaction here? It’s also somewhat suitable that they travel back to the late Sixties because the film itself feels like something that wild have come out of that era; it is lovingly ludicrous like an authentic pulp novel, something that Paul Kinsey or Ken Cosgrove would have written in their time away from the office.
You may scoff at the comparison but although they differ on almost everything else on the surface MiB III actually does share a lot with this most recent season of Mad Men. For one they both feature scenes in which characters imagine the same baseball game, the miraculous rise of the Mets; had the LSD episode aired this week I’d have said Weiner was directly referencing it. Hell he may still be, he may actually be an alien akin to Michael Stuhlbarg’s Serious Man-hattan. It makes as much sense as GaGa and Beiber being extraterrestrials as the on screen screens suggest.
While it was interesting to compare their depictions of the eras differences to those in that show and while they are many it is another of these alien ret-cons that most clearly demarcates the two. Over the course of his adventures J truly ticks off the events of the era as if from a list; flying from the loss of racial rights through to The Factory before eventually ending up in Cape Canaveral, each being revealed as part of an alien invasion. Those critics of the show need to see this so that they can know exactly what such contrivance looks like. But where was I? Pulps and how the style throughout sticks to this as well as the story.
Visually the series seems to have fallen behind its competitors; the special effects startling in their simplicity and lack of show. We are so used to CGi being used to make movies look as real as possible and thus having the scenes that feature them held up as sacrosanct, of the highest dramatic importance and so seeing those techniques used as they are here, with the silliness and irreverence of old is an interesting shock to the system; doubly so in 3-D where the fake features are literally separated from the settings, like cardboard cut-outs.
Mostly this feel is charming, cooky and nostalgic to that kind of fun adventure film they don’t seem to make these days; though in the case of the main villain – played by utterly unrecognizable Concorde Jermaine Clement – the mask slips and the hokeyness shines through. Similarly some of the lines that made it into the final cut are so messily executed, their comedic timing all off and when these are coming from a man as consistently charming as Smith this is unacceptable. Here the film feels less like a deliberate homage to homely filmmaking and more like a rough cut; there were plenty of mistakes made during filming that I bet Barry wishes he could go back and correct.
Unfortunately though he doesn’t have access to the same time travel technology as his characters, well to be honest they don’t really have all that much access to it either. The film places its alien invasion deep in the background – never going for the million dollar money shots, just letting the ships slink down during dialogues – and does something similar with its time travel; introducing it, using it once and then putting it away when its purpose is served. While this may at first seem like a flaw – like the film’s story is overly contrived, each event existing only to lead into the next – I actually saw it as the opposite, to me this suggested that the technology was being kept slave to the story, which is another thing that you simply don’t see these days.
The film is less about the logic and cleverness of its concept – fortunately, as it is somewhat lacking in both – then it is the character ramifications. It’s important that we see this one of all their many missions not because it is the coolest but because it is one of the more meaningful. The moments with Michael’s Billy Pilgrim esque, autistic alien ally go so far as to say this by offering a lite version of literature’s singular view on the topic of timelessness, but these are some of the strongest scenes so again this approach is all well and good to my mind. J needs to get to know K and this is the only way that he can, this is the series’ version of flashbacks; again the execution leaves a lot to be desired, emotionally the stories miss the targets that the film spends its first hour sketching out, but the ideas and intentions behind this addition are good and that counts for something.
The resolution to the films temporal crisis is more relevant here than it probably seems, by realigning the streams – not a spoiler, of course he was going to do this. It’s like saying ” by beating the bad guy” – J makes it seem as if nothing ever happened and this is true too of the series itself. You can completely discard this film if you want and look I probably will, but it was a ride while it lasted. It may have been the fact that I saw it at midnight with a group of friends or that I was sitting in the midst of the city that it so lovingly depicts, but I enjoyed myself with this movie and it only took up the smallest chunk of my time, the ninety minutes flying by like the snap of some fingers and my memories of it vanishing just as fast, as if they were wiped away by magic. In short, I wouldn’t go back and prevent myself from seeing this, though if I did it wouldn’t even have a butterfly effect.