When the first Men in Black film came out, I was 7. It was 1997 and the dollar theatre in my hometown was still open for business. I saw the movie twice there that summer, laughing hysterically at the gags I understood, and even laughing at the ones I didn’t, just to fit in with the audience. The VHS copy I owned was played to death and when I last viewed the movie, it still held up (with the exception of Will Smith’s clothes). I didn’t give the sequel the proper attention it may or may not have deserved, but needless to say, I was truly curious to see what Men in Black 3 had to offer. I’m happy to say that it brought me back and made me feel like a kid again, and that’s never a bad thing.
The film opens with the escape of the hideous, yet often hilarious villain, Boris The Animal, played by the wonderfully under-used, Jermaine Clement. Un-armed by MiB Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) some 40 years earlier, Boris is more than a little upset, and seeks revenge on K by traveling back to past and killing him before the incident. At this point the film is off to a rough start – the chemistry between K and Agent J (Will Smith) seems off. There’s very little of the hilarity that results from the relationship we are so accustomed to in the past films. This gets somewhat explained by the plot – K isn’t his usual self after hearing the news of Boris’s escape and when J shows up for work the next morning, we find K is gone, dead for 40 years.
This is where the film picks up. Boris’s plan has apparently worked, and now it’s J’s job to travel back in time and stop both Boris and the killing of his partner. Now in 1969, J must explain to a younger K the situation. This younger K, played by a brilliantly casted Josh Brolin, takes only a little convincing before he realizes J is telling this ridiculous truth involving time travel – which doesn’t feel forced, because after all, they do work for a secret agency in charge of keeping Earth safe for humans and aliens. The two begin working together and though slightly different, their chemistry is back and we laugh again.
One of the most entertaining aspects of this franchise for me are the reveals that many of the famous people in pop culture are indeed aliens. Mick Jagger, Howard Stern, and Lady Gaga are only a few examples of this comic subtlety throughout the film, suggesting that some of the most “out there” people in our world aren’t from it. When J and K travel to New York’s infamous Factory, home of Andy Warhol, we know where this is going. Or do we? No, as it turns out, Andy Warhol is an MiB agent, undercover, making his art for the sole purpose of attracting this “out there” crowd and to learn something from them. Warhol says something along the lines that he’s resulted to painting “freaking soup cans” to gain popularity. One can read this as a remark to the blockbuster film, conforming to a popular consensus as a way to attract a greater public audience.
This film is certainly a formulaic addition to the Hollywood staple, but that does not, in any way, take away from its charm and enjoyment. Men in Black 3 is a terrific return to a story started nearly 15 years ago, paying off with an end that fans I’m sure will appreciate.