This sort of understanding is exactly what I appreciate about Nicolas Rapold's L Mag review: rather than wringing more hands about whether Anderson makes movies that are too hermetic and glassed-in, it considers Moonrise in relation to Anderson's other films and on its own themes, visual schemes, and effectiveness. I haven't seen Moonrise yet, but if you look at Anderson's other films, you'll find variations within his precise style: the jarring violence of The Life Aquatic, the formal challenges of shooting on a moving train in The Darjeeling Limited, and replicating a particular filmmaking style in animation, a medium so often used for team efforts, aesthetically speaking. I like that this one is getting a Memorial Day weekend berth, a tacit admittance that: (a.) giving his movies fall prestige-picture slots is silly because they're not really Oscar bait and (b.) for a particular demographic with particular tastes, this is a massive summer movie.
Recall that the first Men in Black, when it came out in the summer of 1997, was a breezy summer movie romp, closer in spirit to Ghostbusters than, say, Battleship, and acting as a more (financially) successful counterpart to the previous summer's Independence Day than the other alien-invasion '96 spectacular (Mars Attacks!—which, really, was probably about as expensive and indulgent as a Men in Black movie, albeit more devilish and pleasingly bizarre). Instead of an epic disaster movie aping everything in sight, it delivered deadpan laughs and sight gags in a crisp package of ninetysomething minutes, wrapped by the actually-kind-of-underrated Barry Sonnenfeld. Even in Men in Black II, ten years ago, wasn't so much a gigantic cash-wasting machine (though I'm sure it was that) as an uninspired 88-minute retread. I saw it, and I can barely tell you a thing about what happens in it—though its final shot of a train station locker (supposedly Grand Central, but, you know, no lockers there, etc.) revealing an entire world of its own does stick in my mind. The shame of Men in Black II wasn't in its blockbuster hollowness (though, again, it did have that) so much as the entire team's inability to reproduce something that seems ideal for an ongoing film series: a brisk comic sci-fi adventure pairing the stoic Jones with the wisecracking Smith, plus crazy aliens. It just felt listless in that 80s-sequel sort of way, only it's not nearly as funny as Ghostbusters II.
Men in Black III involves, as the Ninja Turtles tagline suggests, time travel, which to me suggests it won't help but feel a bit more engaged and sprightly than its predecessor (I just love time travel stories), though similar tales of budget overruns, script underfinishes, and general production sloppiness persist. Hopefully this is the franchise's last chance: if you can't figure out a way to make amusing, enjoyable Men in Black sequels, you don't deserve the money you'll inevitably make from Men in Black sequels no matter how lazy they are.
I'm not sure if Smith, Sonnenfeld, Sony, etc., should be worried or relieved that a couple of big-budget May movies have run smack into The Avengers like it was a brick wall; turns out Marvel made a movie big enough to steamroll less exciting options, but that steamroller is heading into its fourth weekend, and at some point, audiences may want to go see something else. Maybe not this weekend, maybe not next weekend, but sometime before Dark Knight Rises. In the meantime: Will Smith on a holiday weekend! People used to do that all the time, right?
The other credited writers? Shane and Carey Van Dyke, the grandsons of Dick Van Dyke who have until now toiled in the presumably lucrative direct-to-DVD-knockoff-of-blockbuster-movie industry, having, between the two of them, written and/or directed Transmorphers: The Fall of Man, The Day the Earth Stopped, Street Racer (not sure if this was meant to capitalize on Speed Racer in particular or Fast/Furious movies in general), and, hey, Paranormal Entity... a Paranormal Activity knockoff which, by the way, my teenage cousin-in-law assures me is way cooler than Paranormal Activity itself (no word from him on how The Day the Earth Stopped compares to either version of The Day the Earth Stood Still. But come on: stopped! That's gold!). Maybe Oren Peli agreed, or at least thought this could be the most efficient way of getting the Van Dyke boys to quit copyin' him. This could start a disturbing trend of direct-to-disc hacks training to make the semi-real thing. Just kidding; it will probably just start a disturbing trend of me trying to think of additional knockoff titles (The Revengers! Shadowy Darkness! Fightership! Men in Black Sunglasses! Snow White and the Hunter! Someone pay me to write all of these!).