By every possible scenario, Men in Black 3 should absolutely not work. The original Men in Black, released in 1997, was a box office blockbuster that caught everybody by surprise. On the other hand, its first sequel, released ten years ago, was a out-and-out disaster. Despite still being a box office success, many moviegoers felt cheated by what was essentially a rehash of the first movie with a weak villain (played by the usually capable Lara Flynn Boyle). Despite the issues with the second film, I was willing to give the new sequel a chance. After all, I already knew that if it was at least a step up from Men in Black II, then it would have already done its job. Well, surprise, surprise, the new sequel is not only a step above the previous movie, but it is also something else: A film almost as good as the original.
In 1997, space was a quirky place. Paul Verhoeven went bug-squishing in Starship Troopers. A pre-Resident Evil Paul W.S. Anderson and a pre-Hellboy Guillermo Del Toro gave us very different sci-fi/horror flicks in Event Horizon and Mimic. And Alien Resurrection made the venerable franchise a little weirder under the pen of Joss Whedon and the direction of French indie favorite Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Arguably, the two most successful offerings, however, gave us very unique takes on science fiction (at least from a visual standpoint). One was the surreal and visually unique pet project of a French writer/director who nowadays is better known for writing and producing more generic action fare such as Taken and the Transporter franchise. The other was based on a comic book (back when such things were a little less common), was a bona fide box office smash (coming only behind the then-highest-grossing-movie-of-all-time in the year’s earnings) and cemented Will Smith‘s reputation as a box-office king (fresh as he was off the previous year’s Independence Day). Both films packed plenty of chuckles–intentional and, perhaps, otherwise.
To twist a tagline from that Alien franchise: In space, no one can hear you laugh. But back in ’97, the laughter was heard in multiplexes everywhere. Come enter the Reel Rumbles ring as we take a stroll thirteen years down memory lane and bust heads with some freaky aliens in The Fifth Element vs. Men in Black.