Written by Etan Cohen,
David Koepp, Jeff Nathanson, Michael Soccio;
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
By Ed Symkus
Movies about the alien-hunting, Earth-saving Men in Black don’t come around very often. The first sequel was made five years after the 1997 original, which introduced the cool-as-a-cuke duo of Agents J and K (Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones). But while the first one combined an original and compelling story with dazzling effects and lots of laughs, the second one relied far more on just the effects and laughs. It would be a challenge to find someone who could tell you the plot of MIB2.
But that’s all been fixed in the second sequel. MIB3, released almost 10 years to the day after MIB2, keeps the laughs, keeps the gadgets and creatures, but also remembers to spin a good story, one that explores the unexplored relationship between the two protagonists. The fact that neither J nor K knows much about each other has been a sort of running gag in the first two films. Now it’s at the center of everything.
But first off, there’s an escape, a spectacular one, from an extremely maximum security prison on the moon, where malicious and malevolent Boris the Animal (Jermaine Clement from The Flight of the Conchords) has devised a foolproof cliché of a plan involving something hidden in a cake.
Boris, by the way, is a Boglodite assassin, in fact the last of the Boglodites, who lost his arm to and was imprisoned by K some 40 years earlier. In conjunction with his long-planned escape is his vengeful declaration to go back through those years to kill K “before he takes my arm.”
So the good story here is one of time travel, featuring something going askew with the time-space continuum and side plots involving “unlicensed extraterrestrial foodstuffs, a possible alien invasion of Earth, the Chrysler Building, and the date July 16, 1969 (Google it).
It’s a tricky genre, with all kinds of rules and regulations and explanations attached. And it rarely works without a lot of confusion along as baggage (only the Back to the Future series comes to mind as one that succeeded). But this film’s quartet of writers, with director Barry Sonnenfeld along for his third turn at the MIB helm, make everything flow. Boris vanishes, suddenly everyone but J believes that K has been dead for 40 years, and J makes a marvelously filmed leap off the Chrysler Building, which sends him back to just before Boris will do the nasty deed.
This introduces us to the much younger version of K, astoundingly played by Josh Brolin who, along with some prosthetic work on his chin, forehead and earlobes, does a spot-on vocal and mannerism imitation of Jones. And his slicked-back hair is, pardon the expression, out of this world.
One gimmick is that though J knows who K is, K has no knowledge of this young upstart. Another is that, instead of finding a 40-years-younger edition of the always gruff K, J meets up with a rather nice guy. It’s here that the film starts to explore what happened to him in the ensuing years.
It’s also here, in the memorable summer of 1969, that the filmmakers really get to play, giving us the clothing, architecture, and music of the day. There’s Times Square as it used to look, there are the sounds of the Stones and Status Quo and the Velvet Underground. Speaking of the Velvets, we also get a visit to a Be-In at Andy Warhol’s aluminum foil-decked Factory, and even a cameo by Warhol (Bill Hader in a white fright wig).
What’s most amazing is that Smith and Brolin manage to latch on to the same chemistry that Smith and Jones shared in the earlier films. But maybe it’s best to forget those movies. This one’s the best of the series.