Saturday, May 26, 2012

fun and honorable

Saw "Men In Black 3". I enjoyed the first two films because they were pure fun, roller-coaster-ride sci fi with great actors. Will Smith is always enjoyable and Tommy Lee Jones has never given a bad performance (never!). But also, Rip Torn and a host of gifted comedians made the first two films pure fun. So I expected more-of-the-same bubble gum kitsch and little else.

But this film was not what I expected, and in a good way. Most sci fi series end up exploding in an orgy of one-upmanship where each successive installment devolves into the ridiculous (e.g., Doctor Who. If one episode involves the near extinction of the Earth, the next must involve the near extinction of the universe; the next again must involve the near extinction of "time itself!"; then after that, the near extinction of "reality as we know it!"...sigh).

But MIB3 chose a different path, one less travelled, and ultimately far more satisfying. A joke in the MIB series is Will Smith jokingly asking "What happened to you K?" referring to the deadpan personality of Tommy Lee Jones’s character Agent K.

A daring production team chose to use this third movie to try to answer that question. Only, the answer has nothing to do with saving the universe, reality, or even just little old New York City (though all three of those things occur). The answer has nothing to do with what Agent K has done for his mission, but rather, what he has personally chosen to give up for his duty. And as such, it became a touching and appropriate movie to see on this Memorial Day weekend.

Cynics can mock that this was a cheap marketing ploy to coincide with this particular weekend opening. Yet it met the one and only burden that entertainment and art ever need to truly meet: it worked.

It worked for me as evidenced by this post. And it worked for the packed cinema as evidenced by their spirited clapping at the end (a rarity at movies these days).

This moment comes as a poignant and deeply meaningful realization near the end of the movie. The moral of the story is that Agent K is his deadpan, grouchy self because in 1969 he realized that there is something in this life more important than his personal, selfish needs. The audience and I recognized the choice he faced, and we recognized that he didn’t hesitate to choose the option of service. Aliens, monsters, and time travel aside, this film chose to say something important and found a way to do that without cheesy clichés and I respect that.

It is a testimony to the writers that they managed to introduce a deeply meaningful teachable moment into an otherwise slapstick film, but they succeeded.

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