Director Barry Sonnenfeld and MIB creator Lowell Cunningham are at it again, bringing to life the off beat exploits of our favorite alien-policing odd couple. And this time they’ve released the proverbial extra-terrestrial twin brother of Charles Manson: Boris ‘The Animal’ (Jemaine Clement), an alien assassin hell-bent on seeking revenge against the MIB agent who sent him to a lunar prison – Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). When he acquires a device to travel back in time, Boris alters the timeline and creates a new one where Agent K no longer exists… and now his partner, Agent J (Will Smith) is the only one who remembers things the way they were. So he does what any loyal crime fighter would do for his ill-fated partner: travel back in time 40 years to stop Boris from killing his friend and mentor.
When he makes the time jump back to July of 1969, Agent J inevitably crosses paths with the young Agent K (Josh Brolin) and quickly has the truth forced out of him. While agent J does his best to blend in to the world of yesteryear, the duo literally race against time as they search for clues to Boris’ whereabouts. Along the way, they cross paths with a trans-dimensional being, Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), who feels compelled to help them as their mission grows evermore dangerous.
After the success of MIB (1997) and the ultimately-doomed mess that was MIB2 (2002) it was refreshing to see that Sonnenfeld and Cunningham were taking on a slightly different approach with MIB3. It was also apparent that lessons had been learned from the previous film: they avoided the sloppy over-abundance of CG creatures running around uncontrollably… and they didn’t cast insanely annoying actors like Johnny Knoxville. Because Tommy Lee Jones had been such large part of the MIB movies, it was understandably a bit of a gamble to produce a third where he has about 15 minutes of screen time. Josh Brolin, however, embodied the character of Agent K perfectly while adopting Lee Jones’ signature facial expressions and body language.
MIB3 is filled with reminders of where we were in the late 60’s. Mankind had not yet set foot on the moon, racial tension still plagued many areas, and don’t get me started on the outlandish fashions of the time! Even the MIB headquarters echoed the popular design ambience of the decade and didn’t feel nearly as sterile and cold as the modern version. In this sense, we are asked to explore a different (almost adolescent) period in the lifespan of the MIB agency. An example might be comparing the modern look of Star Trek: The Next Generation to the bubblier, quirkier aesthetic of the original Star Trek series. The overlapping of time periods will certainly help to communicate to a broader audience: where the younger crowd finds something to learn about the 60’s, the elder crowd has something to be nostalgic about.
One of the more memorable scenes was the investigation’s entry into Andy Warhol’s infamous art-exploring studio called The Factory, where it is not only explained that all super models are aliens, but also that Warhol himself is an undercover MIB agent, codenamed W. There are also subtle references to technology and characters seen in the previous movies: the ‘neurolizer’ has not yet fully matured; the Red Button is missing from the MIB cars; and keep your eyes open for Frank the Pug.
In many ways, MIB3 has something totally different to offer – and for that reason alone, deserves to be watched. The general look and feel of the production was consistent with the last two movies, despite being set in a different decade. As not to take away from plot and character development the creature effects were often kept at a minimum… perhaps too much so for my taste. Boris ‘The Animal’ is fairly one-dimensional and really not as interesting or entertaining as Edgar from the first MIB. But there is amazing chemistry between Smith and Brolin; so much so that I actually forgot that Lee Jones was in the movie at all. And that’s what this MIB3 is about: the growing partnership between Agents J & K and the understanding that some secrets are left alone for a reason. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to”.