If you were an alien longing to look up some old friends, you’d probably use the Men in Black franchise like a high school yearbook. Certainly there’s no end to the menagerie of extra-terrestrial mutations, but after MIB and MIB2, they’re feeling their age–like your friends (but not yourself, of course) at high school reunions. Maybe that’s why this sequel opens with the introduction of a spanking new villain, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords). Breaking out of a prison on the moon built exclusively for him, Boris is headed back in time to get even with the man who put him there in 1969: Agent K, better known as Tommy Lee Jones.
With this Austin Powers-like premise and the injunction to “Do unto others before they do it unto you”, revenge becomes pre-venge. Thanks, time travel!
Once his partner and mentor disappears, and with him all traces that he ever existed in the first place, Agent J, better known as Will Smith, is more than a little pissed off. No, he feels abandoned. Appealing to his supervisor Agent O (Emma Thompson) to come clean about what all the mystery is about, he learns the painful meaning of, “Be careful when you ask questions you don’t want to hear the answers to.” Next thing he knows, Agent J must take the ultimate leap of faith–off a skyscraper, slingshotting himself back to the ‘60s. At stake are his old partner’s life and the little semblance of reality on which J has based his very own personality.
Is there more than this riding on his succeeding? Gosh, yes. If Star Trek was “Wagon Train in space,” then MIB3 is “Invaders From Mars meets the Museum of Modern Art”–or watching The Revisionist History Channel.
Now, I don’t know about you, but it’s a relief not to be forced to witness yet another alien attack by the Planet Hasbro. Let’s have a cheer, too, for the supporting cast, led by Thompson, whose eulogy at a fallen agent’s funeral in an alien dialect sounds like a dolphin on helium. Josh Brolin as the twenty-something Agent K adds to the fun with a Texas barbecue twang that’s as stoic as it is sarcastic.
The good weird science is provided by an amorphic character named Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg) who can see the future as a selection of collapsible realities, with everything possible but only a few things probable. Griffin is the quantum oracle, divining the fate of K and J as they go toe to toe with Boris. Think, Robin Williams’s Mork with a touch of Marty Feldman.
But the funniest performance in the movie is delivered by SNL alum Bill Hader as an MIB agent whose undercover identity is pop artist and culture icon Andy Warhol, the banality of whose celebrity existence is driving the poor agent bonkers. I could trace Hader’s performance back to the grumpy Get Smart character, Agent 13 (created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry and most recently played by Bill Murray in the movie), dying to get reassigned from working undercover in everything from mail boxes to tree trunks. Hader can’t stand another minute of being Warhol, resulting in a whole new level of “I can’t take this anymore!” schtick.
Overall, when I did the math I found myself concluding that MIB3 is exponentially better than the first two. I went to this movie expecting to be bored to death and left planning to see it again.