You shouldn’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to. The only questions you don’t want the answer to are those that have only disgusting or undesirable possibilities. Examples: What’s the sodium content in this burrito? How much do you owe on your student loans? What’s Tony “The Hammer” Spagliano going to do if I can’t pay up? Do I look fat in this? When does the Lady Gaga concert start? But the way they meant it in Men in Black 3 (2012) really was “You don’t want to know.” In that case, the questioner didn’t know they didn’t want to know because to know you don’t want to know is to know, you know? Don’t worry, things will get clearer when I complain about time travel inaccuracies.
Boris (“the Animal”) (Jemaine Clement, though I thought it was Tim Curry), a Boglodite assassin, escapes from the Lunar Max prison (…on the moon, duh…) intent on returning to Earth to kill the Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) of the past (Josh Brolin) and thereby avoid his internment and bring about the Boglodite invasion of Earth that Kay circumvented by deploying the Arch-something in 1969. Somehow, Boris succeeds, Kay is killed (off screen), and Jay (Will Smith) realizes this when no one else does, even the new MIB head O (Emma Thompson). So we figure out what happened and Jay has to go back in time to take care of things to prevent this Boglodite invasion that’s just started (in our own time) from ever happening…again.
There’s a movie that I like, called Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (2009), staring Chris O’Dowd, that explains why this is all bunk—kind of. If something happens in the present and you go back in time to change it, your acts will only result in the present state of affairs (or, at least, fail to alter them). If this weren’t the case, then once you returned to the present and all was as you wanted it, then you wouldn’t have gone back in time in the first place to alter something you never knew to be worth altering.
Men in Black 3 gets around this by going whoooo-whoooo-whooo and having a character that sees through and among time in a quantum, “anything can happen” kind of way. If this guy is really banging around, he’s a time-line nightmare constantly altering everything by saying or not saying anything which he’s doing and not doing in each of the potentialities. But he can’t! He’s between and among time. He’s talking along his own time line, right? If not, then does he see himself in these other universes? At one point, he remarks, “Oh yeah, I didn’t see that coming.” Well that’s just stupid.
It’s like in Back to the Future (1985). Marty goes back in time when the Libyans come and shoot his buddy Doc. In the past, he screws things up such that Marty’s parents are way cooler in the second present. If that’s the case, the Marty in second present, pre-Libyans would have grown up cool. Would he be friends with Doc? Even if he was and he did go back in time, would Cool Marty have screwed things up in the same way? Almost certainly not, so that penultimate ending to the movie isn’t quite as neat as it appeared.
Hey, what’s a premise between friends?
The whole feel of this movie, to me, is a bit like what Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) should have been. An addition to the franchise where we all know the principals and we just want to know what happens next. It’s like the serials and franchises of old, like The Thin Man (1934-47) or Charlie Chan (1934-45). When you watch them, there’s a sense that each new entry is a little cheaper, a little more rushed, a little worse than the one before. In reality, they’re all roughly as good so long as they remain true to the universe they’ve created. That is, unless you take a solid franchise and exploit it—Shrek the Third (2007), Shrek Forever After (2010), Pirates of the Caribbean 4, and (of course) Episode I (1999) and II (2002). This isn’t the exploitation kind.
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones have good chemistry as the hip and square duo. They also have the same director, Barry Sonnenfeld. As in any franchise, they abandon the earlier dramatic elements—Kay being with the love of his life—and create self-contained issues that the story resolves. The one here, the fate of Kay (and thereby the world), is thematically basic and constructed with some care. There’s enough ambiguity in the story that it isn’t clear how happy the ending is going to be. There are even some signs that the ending is going to quite sad. I think the ending they did come to was a bit lazy, but that’s also typical of the serial.
Josh Brolin, as the younger Kay, is good. It’s not exactly Lear, so judging his acting seems stupid. It’s funny. I guess that’s really the highest praise you can give.
The writing, by Etan Cohen, is a little less concerned with reality than the original film, but we’re completely through the looking glass so we’ve left reality far behind. I think that was a great decision. Origin stories are almost always the most popular. That’s why we’re getting all these reboots. Somewhere along the way, film producers got the idea that every movie has to add something new. A new character, a change in the characters’ dynamic, whatever. That strikes me as obviously false. You can take something good and continue it. For some reason, they rarely do.
The music was a little different in this movie. No Will Smith hip-hop for one thing. Instead, they take an electric guitar to the soundtrack and rock it up. That only happens a couple of times, most of the time it’s the same exact sound. There’s also a song specifically written for the movie that plays over the credits (which strikes me as a waste of resources). It’s a pretty good tune; a late 60’s pop sound under some non-threatening rap. It all falls into this serial quality.
After the dismal sequel, it’s refreshing to see them returning to concept in this movie. I expect more to come. I recommend it as a Saturday matinee—think of it as a historical statement.