“MIB III” Delivers A Blast In The Past

We first met agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) back in 1997 when they began “protecting the Earth against the scum of the universe” in “Men in Black.” They continued their partnership with “Men in Black II” in 2002, and now the duo is back again for a time-travel adventure in the highly entertaining “Men in Black III.” And it was precisely the element of travelling back in time that made me enjoy this film more than I did its two predecessors.

As the story gets under way, we watch a woman (Nicole Scherzinger) strutting down the hallway of Lunarmax, a maximum-security prison located on the moon. She is carrying a huge cake that she is taking to a notorious prisoner named Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), whom K sent to Lunarmax after cutting his hand off. Boris is a Bogladite, a particularly loathsome species of alien parasite devoted to stripping planets of their resources in order to survive. After pulling off a bizarre escape, Boris reveals that he plans to return to Earth in the year 1969 so that he can kill K.

In the meantime on Earth, J and K are about to attend the funeral service for Z, the former head of MIB. The new chief of the organization is Agent O (Emma Thompson), who tells her two star agents about the prison break on the moon. When J asks K about Boris, he tells his partner that it doesn’t concern him. J then goes to the archives and learns that K had arrested Boris, but the rest of the information on the case is restricted.

As the complex plot continues to unfold, O lets J know that she doesn’t like the way he is prying into the archives, and she finally tells him that Boris killed K back in 1969. Now J, through a series of events too complex to delineate here arranges to travel back to 1969 and save K’s life.

When J arrives in the past, it’s July, and NASA is poised to launch the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.  He manages to locate the young K (Josh Brolin), who at first is very suspicious of him, but he finally convinces K that he really is from the future and that he has come back to 1969 to kill Boris before the nasty Bogladite sends K to an early grave. When they find out that Boris is going to be attending a party at a place known as “The Factory,” they immediately go there to find him.

At “The Factory” they encounter a number of aliens including one named Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), who has the power of seeing into the future. He is in possession of something called the ArcNet, which can protect the Earth from Bogoladites, but before he can hand it over, Boris appears and frightens Griffin away.

Our two heroes finally track Griffin down at Shea Stadium, and when he gives K the device to activate the ArcNet, but the only catch is that it must be attached to the nose of the Apollo 11 spacecraft scheduled for launch. At this point the story turns into a race against the clock to get the device where it belongs before liftoff, and the agents must overcome a number of obstacles, including Boris, to accomplish their goal.

“Men In Black III” is consistently entertaining from beginning to end, and it establishes and maintains a nice blend of action, adventure, and humor. Of course if you are familiar with the series, you know that much of the comedy in the film is the result of the relationship between J and K. In the movie’s production notes, both Smith and Jones analyzed this partnership.

“The Men in Black movies are about the relationship between J and K,” Smith said. “This movie brings that home – it’s about the power and origin of their relationship. It’s actually an idea we’ve had for years – we had the concept before the second movie – but it needed time to mature. What we had to do was elevate the story, and the only way to do that is to go deeper, deeper into the characters, deeper into the revelations that the movie would reveal.”

“The relationship between J and K has been both contentious and affectionate at the same time throughout the movies,” said Jones.

K is a man of few words, and this often is a source of frustration for J, but the snappy repartee between the two of them is always amusing, and K is constantly dropping little pearls of wisdom like the following when the two of them are talking on the phone.

K: “Do you know what’s the most destructive force in the universe?

J: “Sugar?”

K: “Regret.”

And at one point K tell J, “You want to know what my secret for a happy life is? Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to.”

It’s a testament to Smith’s gift as an actor that he makes J consistently funny whether he’s partnered with either Jones or Brolin playing the part of K. It’s obvious that Smith thoroughly enjoys portraying J, and in the production notes he explained why.

“You can’t beat the black suit. It’s such powerful, iconic imagery. You put on the suit and the shades, and it throws you into the mental space of the Men in Black. It’s like a childhood fantasy – you know things that the other people don’t know and you’ve got the most important job in the world. The 7-year-old boy in me comes running out when I put the black suit on.”

As good as both Smith and Jones are in their respective roles, however, Brolin is the one who threatens to steal the show with his spot-on portrayal of the young version of K. Jones has such a distinctive rhythm to his voice that a lesser actor may have had difficulty emulating it, but Brolin absolutely nails it. In the production notes, he explained how he prepared for the part.

“I’ve seen the first film 45 or 50 times. I’m not exaggerating. I’m a huge fan of the chemistry between Tommy and Will. Tommy’s voice has a cadence to it that’s very specific to ‘Men In Black.’ It’s very different from the way he speaks in life. I just listened to it and listened to it and listened to it until I started dreaming about it. I don’t know if I got it, but my friends would tell me that I sounded like him. I’d go out to dinner, and I’d hear, ‘You’re ordering like Tommy.’ I started with a caricature and whittled away from there. But we really created our own thing. It was less about ‘How am I going to do Tommy?’ than finding a rendition of Tommy and then making it our own.”

In addition to watching Brolin, Jones, and Smith bring their characters to life, I particularly enjoyed the way the film captured the flavor of 1969 and the excitement surrounding the imminent launch of Apollo 11. The sequence in which K is attempting to attach the device to the nose of the ship is effectively suspenseful, and it should provide enough excitement for any action fans.

Although I was not overly enthusiastic about seeing “Men In Black III,” I found myself drawn into it from the opening scenes, and my interest never waned until the rather surprisingly touching ending. The film get’s a final score of seven, and if there ends up being a fourth installment, I’ll break out my black suit again.

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