Sunday, June 10, 2012

Men in Black 3 (2012)

Men in Black II fell so flat that I don't think anyone gave the third entry in the series much hope. The pessimism was compounded by the fact that long before the release there were rumors of trouble and delays on the set, friction between Will Smith and the producers and a bad script. However, none of that was apparent to me watching the film. It may not be blockbuster material, but there was nothing disappointing about the film.

The plot contains both action and sentiment and Will Smith's humor is always engaging. He is very similar, in look and manner, to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and there's not much wrong with that. It's not new, but that makes it no less charming.

Of course, Agent J (Smith) has to go back in time to save the world, but one feels that the world is actually secondary. He's really going back to save his partner's (K's) life. He loves the man. He misses him -- even though they've only been apart a day. He doesn't want him erased from his life. The universe takes second place to that very basic affection between friends. At one point, after J does return to 1969 to meet and assist a young K in killing a bad guy, K asks J if J has a girlfriend in the future. J responds, "I've got you." It's just sarcasm, but this movie shows that it's true. These men aren't partners or friends. They are family. And it feels like it. They've worked together for 14 years and even though the audience has been with them for all of that time, we do feel as if we've been part of the journey which, as it turns out, began even earlier than we think.

We meet Agent O (Emma Thompson) and discover that she and K had feelings for each other. Why they never materialized into something deeper between 1969 and today remains a mystery. Maybe that's being saved for the sequel. But it's somehow sad, just as the wall between Emma and Anthony Hopkins' characters in Remains of the Day was sad. J marvels at the moments of lightness and warmth he glimpses in the young (29 years old) K and he keeps asking, "Man, what happened to you." Young K just laughs and says, "I don't know, it hasn't happened yet." And you laugh, but you also smart a little. Whatever happens you wish it would unhappen, because you don't want K to live the next 40 years so cut off from his feelings, so alone. It's how I felt after reading Young Goodman Brown in school. Why did Goodman ever have to have that dream? It cost him so much. It cost him his Faith -- in more ways than most. Well, here, J still has people who love him 40 years later, but not in the way they could have, if something hadn't happened to change him.

I liked the fact that the psychic's words made J (and us) think that the only way that K could live is if J, himself dies. He was willing to sacrifice himself to save the world -- and K. His fight scene at the top of the crane with the villain, Boris the Animal, strangely reminded me of Buffy The Vampire's The Gift episode. Buffy also had to fight on a crane and to make the decision to jump/fall to her own death to save her sister -- and the world. That's the fate J was facing when he took the plunge.

As for the ending, as soon as the black military officer who helped them in Cape Canaveral 1969 said that his own first born child was there to watch the moon launch, I knew immediately who the man must be. What I didn't understand is why his life and death was kept a secret from his son (J). The officer was not one of the "Men in Black". He did not work anonymously. His job was with NASA and he performed it openly as a ranking commander. He was not responsible for hiding the existence of aliens from the public. He died in the course of helping on a top secret mission and was present when K killed the villain that would have destroyed the world, but because the officer witnessed something secret and died in the process that didn't mean they had to "erase" his memory. Couldn't they have just staged an innocent reason for his death, say he had a car accident or died during rocket testing. Surely they could have gained the government's cooperation in creating a cover up and faking whatever paperwork needed to support it. Instead, they don't explain the man's death and disappearance at all and young J grows up thinking that his father walked out on him. He just left and never returned, from what J knows. Another tragedy.

I liked the movie. Likable familiar characters in a script that not only utilizes their history, but builds and expands it. Humor with pathos.


Nice little walk on by Will Arnett and something being done by Emma Thompson in scenes where America gathered by their tv sets to watch the moon launch. I think Emma (in a wig) played several of the women sitting in front of the tv, but by the time I realized it was her, the short scenes were over. Reminds me of the Night at the Opera rumor that Papa Marx played an extra who waved at the passengers on the departing boat, but also played one of the passengers -- waving at the people (including himself) down below on the dock. Emma seems to have played at least two extras in MIB3 and I don't know what other "in" jokes I may have missed.

The man who gave J the time machine (inherited from his father) ran out of the time he needed to explain how traveling memory worked, but J wondered why he could remember K in the present day (after Boris went back in time and killed him) but no one else could. The Time Machine man said it was because J must have been there, back in 1969. It turned out that J was, but so was O. She was involved with K back in 1969. Why didn't she remember him. Maybe the man meant that J was actually there when K died. He was present when the act happened. Maybe that's why he could remember and O couldn't, but that's kind of cheating with the plot. What time travel rules say that the people who were with you when you died in the past can remember you and how can that be explained in quantum physics in a way that isn't silly and contrived even by sci fi standards?

When J returns from the past and meets K for lunch, K, who only likes country music, is singing along to Jay-Z and Alicia Keyes Empire State of Mind. Is this a clue that something that occurred during J's time travel changed K and made him less intractable and closed than he used to be? We don't see O again, so we don't know if anything changed between the two of them, so that they're now in the present what they almost were in the past. The trip back enlightened J, but we don't know what it did to K, other than to bring him back from the dead.