I love reading reviews of movies, books, and music, the three forms of entertainment that most occupy my increasingly minimal free time. With reviews one can, at best, glean an interesting insight into the creative work, be it what elements make it a success or, conversely, where the creative minds behind the work may have lost their way. At worst, reading a review involves wasting only a few minutes of your time but almost always gives you an insight into someone else’s thought process. After many years, I’ve no doubt read many thousands of reviews. Interestingly enough, there are parts of only two reviews that I can quote almost verbatim, small sentence length thoughts that to my mind perfectly captured the flaws of two particular movies.
The first such review came from a local TV personality who was reviewing the 1989 James Cameron directed film The Abyss. While he loved most of the film, he had this to say: “Watching The Abyss is like seeing a runner have the race of his life, well ahead of all competitors, but stumbles and falls only a few feet away from the finish line.” To me, that was The Abyss in a nutshell, a potentially great film hobbled by a muddled ending. An ending made no better by the extended version offered in the home video release.
The other such film was the original 1997 Men In Black. Upon seeing it, a now forgotten (by me) critic stated this film felt like watching “an extended preview of a great film.” The original Men In Black, to me, felt exactly like that. The movie had some astonishing special effects, a truly bizarre, almost Looney Tune level craziness, but the film felt…undernourished. It was like going into a restaurant expecting a heavy buffet but being served a chocolate bar. There should have been more there there.
The movie’s sequel, released in 2002, was considered by many less of the same: Another wild and crazy special effects extravaganza…but with less of a story than the original film. It seemed like the whole Men In Black franchise was done…until this year.
There were some scary rumors concerning the creation of Men In Black III. Most frightful was that there was word filming began without a complete script. The budget of the film was also very extravagant, rumored to be well over 200 million dollars. Add to the fact that the last film in the series came out some ten years before and you couldn’t help but wonder if the film was a fiasco in the making.
In the end, the film did well, grossing some $600 million worldwide and earning a very healthy 70% positive rating among critics and a similar 72% positive rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes.
Having finally seen the film, I would tend to go positive. Strangely enough this film, even though filming was supposedly started without a full script, feels the most complete of the three Men In Black films, story wise. Yes, you still get those wacky aliens and even wackier special effects, but the story feels far more complete and features Agent J (Will Smith) going back in time to the late 1960’s to save his partner Agent K (played in the present by Tommy Lee Jones and in the past by Josh Brolin) from being killed and wiped out of time.
No, the story isn’t some kind of blazingly original concept…in fact, it seems most filmed time travel stories nowadays involve the old “going back in time to kill someone so they don’t exist in the future” saw. In fact, we saw this similar plotline in Looper, also released this year.
Still, I have to give Men In Black III credit: It is a generally fun and breezy film, the type where you put your mind in neutral and let things happen and, if you don’t think about it too much, you should have a good time. On the other hand, I kind of hope this is the last of the Men In Black films. As enjoyable as this film was, I couldn’t help but feel the premise is a little used up. Worse, Tommy Lee Jones looked really old and uninterested in the whole thing this time around. Given how truncated his role was in favor of Josh Brolin, one can’t help but wonder if he did this film more as a favor/paycheck than anything else.
The bottom line is this: Men in Black III turns out to be a surprisingly good popcorn film despite the by now familiarity audiences may have to this particular subject matter and whatever intrigue happened behind the camera. If you’ve got an hour and a half to kill, you could do far, far worse than spend some time with the Men In Black.
(The trailer below, by the way, features a sequence involving a grafitti artist. This scene was not in the home video cut of the film I saw)