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Script Review: Men in Black 3

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer


CC2K’s Big Ross got his hands on a somewhat dated script for Men in Black III and offers his thoughts on this third film in the MiB franchise.

Men in Black (1997) was a hugely successful sci-fi action/comedy film that helped launch Will Smith to super-stardom. Highly original and genuinely funny, MiB (hereafter) worked because the special effects, as cool as they were, were secondary to a solid story. The film centered and largely depended on successful portrayals of MiB Agents J and K, whom Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones played to perfection.

Men in Black II (2002) was still a commercial success but a critical disappointment. Personally I’ve seen the first film multiple times, and would happily watch it again on television were I to run across it while channel surfing, yet I’ve only seen the sequel once after its initial theatrical release. It’s failure was, IMHO, mostly due to lazy writing. The sequel did little to advance story, merely recycling ideas and characters from the first film. In MiB, K recruits J, Vincent D’Onofrio plays a great villain as Edgar the Bug searching for “The Galaxy,” and we learn of K’s past dilemma of choosing the Agency over a love interest. In MiB II, J recruits K out of retirement and back into the Agency, Laura Flynn Boyle gives a yawn-inducing performance as the villainous Serleena searching for the “Light of Zartha,” and J experiences his own lost chance at love due to the demands of the job. So what does the script for Men in Black III have in store for us? Read on for my SPOILER-filled review!

SPOILER ALERT!!!                SPOILER ALERT!!!                SPOILER ALERT!!!

Disclaimer: The script I read is somewhat outdated. It has been confirmed that the script has gone through rewrites, and I have no idea what all has been preserved and what has been changed, though given some of the info on IMDB and other sites it seems that much of the story in this script has remained intact.

Okay, so the first thing I will say is that I was extremely pleased to see that MiBIII seems to actually go somewhere; this isn’t just another retread as MiBII was. We actually get some nice character development, particularly with respect to Agent J, and the relationship between J and K is the cornerstone for the whole story. That’s the good news. Now for the bad.

As you may have read elsewhere, MiBIII’s schtick is basically a time-travel story. And that’s a problem because time travel is always a tricky thing to deal with in fiction, and if not handled properly can lead to headache-inducing paradoxes. Even in skilled hands this is possible; look no further than the Terminator films. And, no disrespect intended, MiBIII screenwriter Etan Cohen is no James Cameron.

The script opens with the daring prison escape of Yaz, “and evil hippie/biker badass right out of Easy Rider” helped by his lover/partner Devil Girl, an “R. Crumb drawing come to life.” This opening action sequence wildly veers in tone as it attempts to misdirect the audience and evoke a “whoa, that is SO cool” moment that (for me at least) utterly failed due to the fact that if you consider the setup for more than 2 minutes you realize the whole thing just doesn’t make any sense. See, Devil Girl shows up at prison to visit Yaz literally with cake in hand, and is granted an albeit controlled, monitored visit with Yaz. After they make their escape, with the help of some vicious aliens concealed in the cake, the big reveal is that the prison their busting out of is the INTERGALACTIC DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, LUNAR DIVISION. The prison is on the moon!

Problems:

1) The prison guards are all racist, chauvinist human white males.

In attempt to make the big reveal pay off, the setup involves painting all of the prison guards as bigoted Southerners. Hell, the opening shot is of a close-up of mirrored aviator sunglasses, “standard issue throughout the south to abusive, racist prison guards,” which widens to reveal the “sneering face of just such a man” on his way to get Yaz for his visit. The guards admitting Devil Girl are all chauvinist pigs, ogling and sexually harrassing her.

Umm, if this is an INTERGALACTIC prison, it makes NO SENSE for it to be staffed ONLY by the most cliched residents of rural Alabama and Mississippi who, adding insult to injury, are described as “lazy-ass guards” who behave like they’re dealing with some punk kids and not, as it is made obvious, the intergalactic equivalent of the Joker and Harley Quinn.

2) The prison guards only check the cake for metal objects.

Related to the last point, if this is an INTERGALACTIC prison equipped with all manner of futuristic, alien tech, wouldn’t it make sense for the prison guards to perform more than a perfunctory scan of Devil Girl’s cake solely for metal objects? You’re telling me they wouldn’t scan that thing six ways from Sunday for chemicals, biologicals, radiation, etc.? And Yaz is shackled in nothing more than steel chains and cuffs? Where are the super strong alloys? Or energy restraints; you’re telling me they don’t have energy restraints?

3) Despite clearly being one of the worst prisoners currently incarcerated, Yaz is still granted a visitor.

As I mentioned, within the first few pages of the script it is made ABUNDANTLY clear that Yaz is one of the worst of the worst. He’s a “sociopathic badass,” yet he still is permitted a visitation so poorly secured the guards might as well have simply released him and saved themselves all of the pain and getting murdered.

I encountered such problems at multiple points while reading the script, and I can only hope that these things have been addressed in rewrites.

With the introduction of the film’s villain, we cut to Agents J and K, going about typical MiB business that quickly gets out of hand as they’re ambushed by Yaz and a bunch of henchaliens. J saves K from Yaz, and we learn that K and Yaz have some ugly history. Yaz attempted to blow up the earth a long time ago, and K stopped him. It seems Yaz is out for revenge. And this is likely not the last they’ve seen of him.

Cut to the next day. When K failed to show at a MiB bowling tournament the night before, J wins MVP. Coming in to the Agency, J is all brashness and gloating, ready to rub K’s face in the shiny new trophy. But J is alarmed to find that K isn’t K (Tommy Lee Jones) at all! The script calls for a certain famous actor to make a cameo that goes completely against type and (if he comes on board) would be a funny, memorable bit. Anyway, J learns that the “real” K died  back in 1969 attempting to apprehend Yaz, and figures out that Yaz must have found a way to travel back in time and alter history, killing K. The most significant result of which is that a missile defense shield that K spearheaded getting built never did, and now Earth is defenseless. This is terribly inconvenient considering that 2 missiles are suddenly detected, inbound into the solar system and on a catastrophic (i.e. world-ending) collision course with Earth.

And so J finds a way to travel back in time to 1969, intent on preventing the murder of K, thereby saving the Earth by ensuring that the missile defense shield is built. Along the way J gets into some not unexpected comical hi jinks, considering he is an African American in a time when the Civil Rights Movement is still in its toddler years if not infancy, which Will Smith could infuse with his usual wit and charm to make genuinely humorous. This brings up another interesting issue, namely the young Agent K.

IMDB confirms that Josh Brolin will be playing the role of the “young” Agent K, but in the script K is indicated to be 26 years old in 1969. However, Brolin was born in ‘68, the same year as Will Smith, which obviously means they’re the same age (44). Brolin’s not one I can envision playing much younger than his actual age, so I imagine Agents J and Young K will be portrayed as near the same age. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in the first two films, K is much older than J, and is clearly a mentor to J, and the script for MiBIII goes to some length to explore the inversion of their relationship. This may likely be one of the things that was addressed in rewrites.

The other two things that seem apparent to me that will or have been changed in rewrites also involve casting decisions. One, Emma Thompson is listed on the MiBIII IMDB page as the character “Oh.” This character is never mentioned in the script that I read, and I have no idea how big her role may be in whatever new version is the shooting script for this movie. Two, IMDB lists Jermaine Clement (one half of the hilarious Flight of the Conchords duo) as the character Boris, which I’ve learned is essentially the Yaz character in the script I read. This is maybe not a huge change, but it is clear that the character of Yaz is one-note: evil badass. I have to think that casting Clement as the same character (renamed Boris, for reasons unkno- wait, isn’t Yaz a birth control pill? Oh that’s right IT TOTALLY IS) opens up all kinds of possibilities for making this a more comical character. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that.

In the end, the time-travel trickiness really does become a problem, spawning aforementioned headache-inducing paradoxes in the plot. On a sidenote, one subplot of the film involves Young K investigating dry ice, to which J cracks a joke to which K responds something like, “No, we just don’t know what the Hell the stuff is.” …WTF? Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide. Doesn’t everyone know that?!? The solidification of carbon dioxide, AKA dry ice was first observed back in the 1800’s; it was heavily researched and patented back in 1937. The idea that they didn’t know what dry ice was in 1969 is retarded! And no I don’t mind using that word because it is absolutely appropriate in this instance.

Anyway, time travel paradoxes. I won’t go into specifics, but essentially J’s traveling back in time saves K, but this seems a part of the natural time order. “Original Yaz” doesn’t kill K, “future-traveling-back-in-time Yaz” kills K, or would have killed K but not for the intervention of J, which then leaves it completely unexplained how Yaz managed to kill K by traveling back in time, not to mention the whole “Skynet built from the remains of the first terminator it sent back in time” paradox this creates and -OWWW MY BRAIN HURTS.

So dear reader, if you didn’t navigate away once you saw that SPOILER warning, let me close by saying this. Based on this script, outdated it may be, I already feel much better about MiBIII than I ever have about MiBII. That’s already an accomplishment.

Assuming the whole thing doesn’t get ruined in rewrites.

Author: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

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