The James Clayton Column: Film franchises that should take a timewarp

James salutes Men in Black 3's timey wimey plot and has a few suggestions for other film franchises that could go in a similar direction...

The Men in Black are back and they’ve decided that for this comeback they’re going to go back in time. Cue Will Smith doing a rap cover of the Timewarp with a video that features aliens and Tommy Lee Jones dressed up in an outfit right out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

For Smith’s Agent J “it’s just a jump to the left” right off the top off a Manhattan skyscraper, a click of a contraption in mid-air and then arrival in 1969. Here Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K looks like Josh Brolin and most aliens look like B-movie extras. Leaving the modern world of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber behind him (or, rather, in front of him) Agent J gets to experience the age of hippies and Andy Warhol as he seeks to prevent Agent K’s assassination.

So far, so much like a kitschier, alien-infested version of The Terminator with Big Will’s bombastic style instead of Arnie. Actually, the time-space-continuum smashing synopsis of MIB³ also makes me think about a sci-fi superbrand from outside the United States. Time travel plus aliens equals Doctor Who and in spite of its very British eccentricity and its incomprehensible plot threads (sometimes you need to draw diagrams to keep up with the developments of recent series) it remains both a critical and commercial success.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld, His Fresh Princeness and everyone else behind the Men in Black series are undoubtedly hoping that their timewarp also gets praise and pulls in audiences. It’s worth a shot and whereas some would see a time travel tale as a desperate last roll of the dice for a stagnant franchise, I’d disagree and say it’s an excellent idea.

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By putting the black suits in the ‘60s and retrofitting the MIB world with groovy period detail, a series that’s been forgotten in recent years gets opportunity to impress with a newfound sense of energy and fun. It’s an inspired approach to rebooting the movie canon and I hope it works out for Men in Black 3.

Even if it doesn’t, time travel still strikes me as an excellent way to inject fresh impetus into a film series. The notion is ludicrous and so fraught with mindblowing, metaphysical problems and paradoxes but nevertheless makes for great movies. Think 12 Monkeys, Army of Darkness, Time Bandits, Timecrimes, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Back to the Future. The list runs on and looking at the select collection of chronomancers, I can’t help but think we should cinematically travel in time more frequently.

More moribund movie franchises should follow Men in Black 3’s jump to the left and do a timewarp in order to reassert themselves on the blockbuster scene. The time-space-continuum can be bent to Hollywood’s will and I’d urge movie moguls to do some historical digging and contemplate the following plots as they look to craft future sequels, prequels and spin-offs for these film series…

Rambo V: Very First Blood

Downing a chrono-capsule and taking a time leap in the hope he can rewrite history, scarred veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) returns to the early ‘60s eager to convince his younger self to become a draft dodger. Sadly, young Rambo refuses to listen and heads to boot camp and eventually to ‘Nam, accompanied by his older self after an unfortunate case of mistaken identity.

Sly’s tormented soldier therefore relives the entire Vietnam War again both as himself and his past self, ultimately getting triple the blood on his hands, triple the physical and psychological war wounds and the worst case of post-traumatic stress disorder ever.

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Crank 3: TimeCrank

Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) dies if he doesn’t keep his heart rate high and this is made ridiculously challenging when he gets hit by a chrono-bullet and shot back to Elizabethan England. Without easy modern adrenaline-boosters, Chelios has to go on a desperate Renaissance-era rampage to raise his blood pressure and stay alive. This involves ultraviolent performances as part of Shakespeare’s company, lots of vigorous sex with wenches, fighting in the bear pit and shooting himself out of cannons at the Spanish Armada.

Top Gun 2: Over the Top

Flying over the Bermuda Triangle while filming flight instruction videos for Top Gun school students, Maverick (Tom Cruise) gets sucked into a chrono-vortex and crash lands in the heart of World War I Europe. In spite of this calamity, the American aerial ace still feels that need, the need for speed (albeit reduced speed in these early days of primitive aviation technology) and offers his services to the Allies as they aim to annihilate the dastardly Red Baron.

Buckled up in a bi-plane with Goose’s Scottish grandfather, Maverick is at first dismissed as cocky and dangerously reckless but his new compatriots eventually come around. After shooting down the Red Baron and saving the life of hero pilot Iceberg (“you can be my wingman anytime, old chap!”) Maverick is hailed as a Great War hero. The only downside is that he gets venereal disease from a French prostitute while on leave which makes for some uncomfortably itchy moments in the cockpit.

Battleship 2: Rise of Atlantis

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When Captain Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) accidently sails his battleship into the Bermuda Triangle (when will the US Armed Forces learn?), he and his crew sink into a chrono-portal which deposits them in the 5th century B.C. Poseidon is already annoyed that the Peloponnesian War has been disturbing his domain and this intrusion on his waters pushes the sea god over the edge. The Olympian thus raises Atlantis from the depths and throws the full force of his aquatic wrath at humanity. Will it be a Greek tragedy as brought to you by Hasbro or will the small selection of triremes packed with hoplites and Hopper’s battleship be able to overcome the Kraken and save civilisation from obliteration?

Predators vs. Samurai

Predators have an interest in human history and enjoy collecting Earth artefacts (remember their trophy room in Predator 2?). A visit to the contemporary Tokyo National Museum inspires them to use their technology to timejump back to old Edo in order to claim Tokugawa Ieyasu’s armour for themselves.

The Shogun isn’t impressed at this extraterrestrial invasion into his 17th century dominion, however, and despatches armies of ninjas and samurai to repel the ugly mothers. The result is kamikaze katana-waving carnage and a K-Y jelly bloodbath ideally orchestrated by ultraviolent Japanese auteur Takashi Miike.

And if none of those captivate you, don’t despair chrononauts. Just keep hanging on for Bill & Ted 3.

James Clayton enjoys taking time warps but the pelvic thrust has driven him insane. You can see all his links here or follow him on Twitter.  You can read James’ last column here.

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