Men in Black 3
Release Date: May 24, 2012
There are so many people on this planet, and so many more that came before us and will come after. Have you ever wondered just how lucky you are to meet those individuals who’ve made the biggest impact on your life? And when you come to think about it, just how much luck can a single person expect to have? Men In Black 3 is a playful sci-fi romp that, amidst the aliens, neuralisers and wise-cracks, asks viewers to spend a moment appreciating the miraculous nature of a happy life.
The third installment in this comic book-to-film franchise picks up fourteen years into the extraterrestrial partnership between Agent J (Wil Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). For those who haven’t followed the Men In Black storyline, both work for a top secret, non-governmental agency charged with protecting the earth from alien influence. Imagine customs officers dealing with eight-armed Chinese chefs who keep poisoning their human clientele with off-world noodles and you’ll get the idea. However every now and then a visitor arrives with more destructive intentions. Enter Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Concords fame), an intergalactic assassin and prison escapee. He was put away by Agent K 40 years ago and lost his arm into the bargain. Now he’s traveling back in time to kill K before he can be arrested, and allow an invasion of planet earth to succeed. All that stands in his way is Agent J’s determination to follow him back to the 60s.
There are very few films with a ‘3’ in the title that can claim to work as well as this one – Jaws 3? Mission Impossible 3? Naked Gun 33 1/3? I rest my case. It’s especially true for a venerable franchise that requires really physical acting – an aging Matt Damon confessed The Bourne Supremacy almost asked too much of him. However director Barry Sonnenfeld has taken a story that began fifteen real years ago and managed to inject as much humour and energy as the original 1997 venture. New jokes, new plot devices, new actors (look out for excellent performances from Josh Brolin and Emma Thompson) add up to Men In Black 3 being one of those films you won’t be checking your watch through. There’s also a plot twist at the end most won’t see coming, which is miraculous for a fairly standard hero-vs-bad guy story.
Also miraculous for a science fiction film is its concentration on, well, the miraculous. In dealing with its time-traveling trials, Men In Black 3 draws our attention to just how much has to happen in life for any good thing to occur. Michael Stuhlberg plays Griffin, a fifth dimensional being who sees all the potentials in any given moment simultaneously, and is always aware of just how many of the paths we choose are dead ends. But his realism doesn’t result in pessimism. When life on earth hangs on the slimmest of chances he tells Agent J, “Miracles always seem impossible – until they happen.” That, in essence, is why they’re called miracles. Not because they’re impossible, but because they are extremely unlikely given the circumstances we’re used to observing.
As the clock winds down on the time left for Agent J to save Agent K’s life, we begin to see just how miraculous their friendship is – how many small things had to come together for them to meet and grow to care for each other. Agent K refuses to give J the answers he wants regarding their shared past – “One of those secrets not even the universe knows” – but that doesn’t mean a lot of thought and planning didn’t go into their relationship. He warns the younger agent “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to,” because the truth may require us to re-evaluate our view of life. What J has taken for granted is in fact the result of a whole range of factors going right that could have more easily gone wrong. Looked at that way, every good thing we enjoy is a miracle waiting to be realised.
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The classic objection to believing in miracles is their unlikeliness – “Someone rising from the dead? How often has that happened?” However the film’s realistic approach suggests the very unlikely nature of the good things we enjoy should drive us to take them more seriously. In a film about the vast number of things that could go wrong, it’s worth asking ourselves why they go right. Men In Black 3 stops short of suggesting that someone is orchestrating these positive results for our benefit; Christians by contrast suggest the gifts we enjoy imply a Giver. So, will you be sitting in that cinema seat enjoying Wil Smith’s antics because of the random juncture of a positive review, a free afternoon and some spare cash? Or will it be because Someone wants you to learn something about where good comes from in this often faulty world?