Men in Black III: In Defense of Soft Sci-Fi

Men in Black 3 poster imageIt’s funny how whenever I promise to have a particular series (about a book, ornery pseudo-science topic, etc.) I always think I’ll get to it but almost always get sidetracked. This might be frustrating for some of you, and if it is, I apologize, however, I do hope that whatever it is I come up with in the meantime is at least as interesting, and that once I finally do get to the topic, the wait was well worth it. In any case, if you’ve read this far without seeing the title of this post, I’m postponing the Neuromancer post, perhaps indefinitely for the simple fact that I haven’t finished it yet. Rather than try to rush through it to get to it today, I decided to try for next week (again), but if I can’t manage it, I’ll make it the focus of my next round in August and really dig deep. It is the origin of the entire Cyber Punk genre, and majorly influenced major ideas in all of science fiction, so the subject bears in-depth study (and, you know, it’s really cool). So yeah. For today, Men in Black III.

Will Smith III: Back in Black

I’ll admit this right off: I’m a big Will Smith fan. I’ll pretty much watch anything with him in it, even if I’ve heard it’s terrible. Some of the movies he’s been in have been… less than great, but I haven’t come across anyone yet who ever faults him for that. That said, the Men in Black movies have been a tad hit or miss, with me and the rest of the movie-going world. The franchise started strong with Men in Black and set up a fun theme of soft sci-fi with lots of explosions and cameo appearances (90% at Rotten Tomatoes, 7.1 IMDB), but lost a lot of its charm with Men in Black II (39% Rotten Tomatoes, 5.8IMDB). Going into the third, I didn’t really look into the ratings (something I almost always check), thinking that at least Will Smith could make it bearable.

Men in Black 3 young Kay Jay and Griffin

Overall, I’d say this is the most character-driven movies of the three. That’s Griffin in the middle. He’s an alien. You can tell in the movie, trust me.

Well, I’m happy to say that the movie’s not only “bearable,” but in my opinion, actually pretty good (backed by metascores again, 69% Rotten Tomatoes, 7.2 IMDB). It had Smith’s charm, granted, but the movie itself was surprisingly good (so much better than the second), and it got me thinking. Men in Black has always been full of crazy tech that barely makes any sense and is absurd for the sake of laughs. The movie makes fun of itself constantly, spouting meaningless pseudo-science and giving no explanations beyond “because science!” for any of its myriad alien wonders and giant guns. But that’s all part of the fun. Somehow, however, this has worked and not worked in the three movies, so something’s different about how each one does things.

Soft Sci-fi Comedy: A Study of Balance
The way I understand it, the movies break down thusly:

  • Men in Black: Will Smith’s character Jay is introduced to the world of aliens and the MIB, freaking out and generally being Will Smith about all the weird stuff. Most of the comedy revolves around these interactions of Jay and the world. The plot is secondary, but passable, and the characters are decently written and interesting (but mostly static and unchanging). +Points for originality and Will Smith. No significant -‘s
  • Men in Black II: Will Smith’s character has come into his own and is generally used to all the weirdness. The freaking out shifts to Tommy Lee Jones’ character K as he is reintroduced to the world (and then becomes his old, hardened vet self again). The focus shifts to the plot, which is weak, and side characters who aren’t strong enough to support the story. Will Smith is still Will Smith. +Points for Will Smith being in the movie. – Points for weak plot and characters and generally being the same movie without being original.
  • Men in Black III: Jay and Kay are back in business from the get-go. The world spins on, both characters are competent, and the focus turns to developing their dynamic. Introduce creepy alien villain setting out to kill Kay for unknown reason. Kay disappears, and Will Smith gets to be Will Smith about all the weirdness that results as he has to go back in time to meet Kay’s younger, less uptight self from the 60’s. New character dynamics emerge, character growth ensues. Plot is relatively strong. +Points for Will Smith being stronger than usual, and Josh Brolin being a pretty convincing younger Kay (and by extension, a younger Tommy Lee Jones). +Points for stronger than usual plot. +Points for alien designs and ideas original to the series. No significant -‘s

So, what can we learn from this (except that Will Smith needs to be in more Sci-fi)? With Science being only a convenient background and source for comedic interactions, the fundamentals of the movie still have to be strong. This just serves to highlight the fact that it doesn’t matter if you have the most awesome science fiction ideas in history, if you have a weak plot and flat characters, no one will care, and not even the charm and “Aww Hael No”‘s of Will Smith can save you.

Men in Black III had some pretty fun ideas for tech, taking all the iconic weapons and

Men in Black 3 Boris the Animal

Boris the Animal is… Actually, I have no idea what he is. Spines and claws and teeth just kind of… come out of places. See the movie, you’ll see what I mean.

gadgets of the previous movies and putting a 60’s twist on them, and the designs of Boris the Animal (the villain) and Griffin (a fugitive alien conscious of every possible timeline simultaneously) augment the decent plot and character dynamics to make the movie much better overall. It is a cohesive process, reliant on every part. You can have great sci-fi with great tech ideas and great fundamentals, but you can’t have even a good movie if your basic structure is weak.

Alright, that’s it for this week! If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I recommend it! It’s fun and quirky, and surprisingly touching at parts, and yes it also has Will Smith. Next week I’ll probably get into some of the tech ideas of Neuromancer as a sort of introduction to the world. Until then, what do you all think of the Men in Black movies? And Will Smith? Let me know in the comments below!

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About erikthereddest

I'm a Masters student in English, and I love technology and Science Fiction. I am refining and enhancing my (admittedly novice) writing talents under the sage advice of my friends here at Lantern Hollow Press, and with the great many books I am reading from the best authors I can find.

Posted on June 20, 2012, in Aliens, Erik Marsh, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Men in Black, Movie Reviews, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, Universes and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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