MEN IN BLACK 3 – Blu-ray review

Now, if all of you could just look into this neuralizer while I talk about “Men in Black 3”.

That really was a young Tommy Lee Jones from the Sixties you saw in time-travel flashback, not Josh Brolin doing as fantastic a job aping Jones’ mannerisms, voice, and cadences as he did with Bush II in “W.” And you did not—I repeat, NOT—see the “Men in Black” franchise redeem itself after a hugely disappointing first sequel. “Men in Black II” did not happen. It was a wart on the universe: here one minute, gone the next. Like Roman numerals.

“MIB 3” is an obvious reference to the film’s three stars:  Jones, Brolin, and Will Smith, who have a lot more to joke about this outing than the sequel that never happened. Or maybe it’s an allusion to a chemical compound, because the stars certainly have great chemistry in this film. And what’s all this talk about redemption? Can’t an action-comedy ramp up the special effects, bring in a truly scary villain, play with time travel, and reinstate the buddy-cop banter that made the first film such a success without people making a fuss over it?

Seriously, though, MIB3 really does have more action, a more cohesive plot, more banter, better creatures, stronger action sequences, and a more dangerous and menacing villain than that second misstep everyone at Sony/Columbia Pictures would rather forget. I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first “Men in Black”—the 1997 film that introduced us to two agents from a top-secret government agency whose task is to monitor alien activity on earth and intervene when necessary. “When necessary,” of course, always means that the future of Earth hangs in the balance.

You instantly know the high stakes when “MIB3” begins with a brutal and bloody lunar prison escape—engineered by Boris the Animal (“Just Boris!”), a one-armed Boglodite who has had years to plot his revenge and finally carry out the Boglodite invasion of Earth that Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) thwarted back in the Sixties. Boris the Animal wants to go back in time so that he can reclaim his arm and launch that invasion, knowing what he knows about the past, by killing K. Time travel will make it possible for him to do that and revive his extinct race, and don’t the Men in Black know it. Or at least one of them does. So Agent J (Smith) decides to go back to the Sixties for the expressed purpose of saving his friend’s life . . . and yeah, the world, too.

Barry Sonnenfeld directs again, but Etan Cohen (“Tropic Thunder,” not to be confused with Ethan) handles the screenplay this time around, solving the major problem of Jones being a non-operative for most of “MIB II” by having Brolin play him as a younger man this time around when the script calls for time travel. It adds new interest to the buddy cop banter, because much of the humor derives from Brolin’s absolutely nailing the impersonation. Gone this time is the sophomoric gross-out humor that crept into the second installment, and the tone is far less silly. In fact, it’s darker and actually edge-of-the-seat harrowing during sequences dominated by Boris—and this guy, frighteningly played by Jermaine Clement, dominates every scene he’s in.

There’s so much action in this film that Michael Bay reportedly wanted to direct it, but Sonnenfeld handles it just fine. The pacing is brisk, the action sequences are taut, and though it’s darker and more serious than the original tongue-in-cheek film, it comes a heck of a lot closer than “MIB II.” Though my teenage son disagrees (but couldn’t put his finger on why), I’d even go so far as to say that “Men in Black 3” is as good as the first “Men in Black.”

“MIB 3” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and brief suggestive content.

Sony did an awesome job on this title, with the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50GB disc looking eye-candy special. Even the Sixties’ sequences are full of the colors and details and solid black levels throughout that you’d expect from a blockbuster release. I saw no compression artifacts, and while the grain level is minimal there was no evidence of excessive scrubbing and DNR. What’s most impressive is that at no time does the high definition pull the curtain back to expose any of the special effects. Everything holds up wonderfully. “MIB 3” is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

The audio is also dynamite, though I half expected a 7.1 track instead of the English or French DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio that we get, with an additional option in Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and subtitles in English, English SDH, French and Spanish. It’s a dynamic, fully immersive audio that has plenty of force during action sequences but also captures the quieter moments and doesn’t require a lot of up/down volume adjustment during playback. You expect the subwoofer to pull its weight on a film of this sort, and it does. You expect logical and impressive directionality from the sound during action sequences, and we get that. You also want to be able to discern different weapons and alien sounds during fight scenes, and we get that too.

While there’s no feature commentary or PIP trivia track, the 26-minute “making of” feature and three mini-features are worth watching. The former is a pretty standard behind-the-scenes documentary that incorporates the usual blend of filming footage and talking heads, with casting, story development, shooting in New York, visual effects, creature design and stunt work all getting some time. But the three shorter features are almost as good. Fluffy but fun is “The Evolution of Cool: MIB 1960s vs. Today” (11 min.), which gets into how they created a Sixties look, while “Keeping It Surreal: The Visual FX of MIB 3” (10 min.) zooms in on key scenes in varying stages of development and “Scene Investigations” (18 min.) goes into even more detail on how the opening sequence, the motorcycle chase, J’s time jump, and the showdown at Mr. Wu’s were crafted.

But a gag reel is pretty much a throwaway, as are the previews and a “Spot the Alien Game” that will seem crude compared to today’s game-system shooter entries. A Pitbull music video (“Back in Time”) completes the bonus features—though some might consider the DVD and UV copy of the film a bonus.

Bottom line:
“MIB 3” doesn’t have the same see-it-for-the-first-time magic that the original had, and tonally, with Boris, it’s a totally different animal. But it’s just as strong of a film.