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Thursday, May 31, 2012 05:05 am

Intelligence and wit make a winning MIB 3

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While Will Smith’s on-screen counterparts have defeated aliens, zombies, robots and drug dealers, the actor himself faces a far more threatening foe, that of irrelevance. Having graced the big screen last four years ago in the well-meaning but horribly flawed Seven Pounds, the most popular movie star in the world has been conspicuous by his absence. Cranking out one, and sometimes two, films a year, Smith certainly earned a break from the spotlight, but it came at great risk because much has changed since 2008’s Hancock. One can’t help but wonder if fans will return to see him in this arena, what with films like The Dark Knight and The Avengers having considerably changed the action landscape.

I suppose the best way to get your feet back under you is to start on familiar ground, and Smith does just that with Men in Black III, a surprisingly entertaining, clever and touching follow-up that will please the actor’s longtime fans and earn him some new ones…if they’re convinced to take a chance on a film which is so yesterday. What with the first entry in the series 15 years ago and the disappointing follow-up a decade in the past, one can’t help but think that the ship has sailed on the franchise, both in terms of quality and timeliness.

However, I’m happy to report that this three-quel is far better than MIB II and on par with part one, thanks in large part to the script from Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder). It features a complex plot that makes for an engaging entertainment but also further defines the relationship between the series’ titular agents, adding a poignancy to their partnership that manages to reinvigorate the Men in Black.

The film opens up with a bang as Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), a truly repulsive and genuinely frightening alien, busts out of a super-max prison on the moon and heads to Earth to hunt down the man who put him there 40 years earlier, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). He manages to track down a device that allows him to jump back in time to 1969, where he plans to kill K, thus altering his future. However, Agent J (Smith) is rudely made aware of this plan when he senses that time has already been altered, so he follows Boris back to the past to save his partner’s life, putting him in contact with a younger K (Josh Brolin) who needs a bit of convincing that all his partner-from-the-future’s claims are true.

Cohen does a great job explaining the concept of time travel and all of the possibilities it presents are as entertaining as those in the Back to the Future films. This is never more obvious than with the introduction of Griffin (A Serious Man’s Michael Stulbarg), an alien who can see a variety of future timelines simultaneously and who at times recounts the many small variables that go into making up one event. One of my favorite movie moments of the year occurs when he allows J and K to glimpse the final fate of the 1969 New York Mets and tells them of all of the commonplace actions that have coalesced to result in one magical day. One of the film’s themes is the idea that there are no insignificant actions and that in being open to the possibility that miracles can occur through happenstance and a bit of luck, life is a magical journey rife with endless possibilities. It’s a heartfelt, nurturing notion that’s made all the more powerful once we see how J and K’s adventure in the past turns out.

The most pleasant surprise from a Hollywood studio this year, Men in Black III manages to reinvigorate the franchise but more importantly it gives weight to the relationship between its two beloved principals, providing some much-needed background to their friendship and making them even more appealing than before. The result is a film that not only tickles the mind but tugs at the heart with its trippy story of loyalty and faith.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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