Moviegoers might be surprised to know that the summer features three sequels or franchise starters based on comic-book properties. Men in Black is based on a long-defunct comic-book series that never sold in big numbers, but that mattered little when the big-screen adaptation hit movie theaters 15 years ago.
Headlined by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black’s unique mix of science fiction, action, and comedy proved irresistible to mainstream moviegoers. A sequel, appropriately, if unimaginatively titled, Men in Black II followed five years later. Another sequel seemed unlikely, but Smith’s desire to return to the Men in Black universe, not to mention his box-office clout, made the unlikely likely (or rather possible, probable, and finally, actual).
Men in Black 3 finds Agent J (Smith) and Agent K (Jones) relatively unchanged since we said good-bye to them after the underwhelming Men in Black II. Agent J still remains a master quipster, though his quips have grown slightly stale with time. Agent K remains a man of few words and even fewer catch phrases. The offscreen demise of the Men in Black’s former chief, Agent Z(ed) (Rip Torn), presumably due to natural causes, briefly brings Agents J and K back to MIB’s HQ for a formal eulogy. MIB’s new chief, Agent O (Emma Thompson), seems to share a history with Agent K, but whatever relationship they had or continue to have remains unexplored (at least for now). Far more urgent is the recapture of Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords, Eagle vs. Shark), a repulsive alien designed, like every other alien in Men in Black 3, by multiple Academy Award-winner Rick Baker who escapes from a maximum-security prison specifically built for his otherworldly talents.
Boris, of course, has a diabolical master plan and that plan involves time travel. Boris plans on traveling back forty (actually forty-three) years and killing the MIB agent, K, who caught and imprisoned him the first time. When Agent J wakes up the next morning, Boris plan seems to have worked. No one remembers K because he’s been dead for forty years, necessitating a time-jump that, as the TV ads and trailers give away, involves literally jumping from a skyscraper, activating a handheld time machine mere seconds before body and concrete meet below. J, of course, succeeds in time traveling back to 1969 where, despite his semi-best efforts, crosses paths with a forty-years younger K (Josh Brolin, perfectly emulating Jones’ body language and verbal delivery, while also adding one or two extra layers).
Men in Black 3 segues from one Agent-J-out-of-water scenario to another, tangentially touching on race relations circa 1969 before moving on to Agent J’s repeatedly attempt to convince Agent K of his time-travel bonafides, with stops along the way to meet a key pop culture figure, Andy Warhol (a scene-stealing Bill Hader), and an eccentric alien, Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man), who can simultaneously see multiple, alternate time lines and might, just might hold the key to derailing Boris’ plans to kill Agent K and, in turn, open the spaceways for a current-day invasion by Boris’ Boglodite brethren (or something to that effect). A younger Agent O (Alice Eve) makes an appearance or two, but Men In Black 3 spends practically no time exploring her relationship with Agent K (and vice versa). The emphasis, as always, is on the May-December bromance between Agent J and Agent K, with their roles of senior and junior agents reversed.
While Men in Black 3 offers little we haven’t seen countless times story wise, it’s the individual elements, the character interactions, the character-based humor, the alien-based humor, some verbal, some physical, Rick Baker’s period-specific alien makeup, and the best visual effects and set pieces that Columbia Pictures can buy. As sequels go, Men in Black 3 is far from necessary, something that can be said for practically every Hollywood-produced sequel (with notable exceptions, of course), but it’s also the rare sequel that matches the original for its consistent delivery of laughs, action, retro-futuristic gadgetry, retro-cool production design courtesy of Men in Black regular Bo Welch), and, on at least one late-film occasion, emotional resonance too.
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