So Can I Have My Old Partner Back Now?
It was 1997 when Men in Black first burst onto the big screen featuring a successful pairing of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as unlikely partners in the protection of Earth against the scum of the universe, with action, special effects and generous doses of comedy rolled into one. Directed by Barry Sonnenfield, they returned five years later for a sequel, and chances for a third film got hovered around for the longest time, finally taking up to a decade before it materialized, taking advantage of the needless 3D format to deliver the latest installment of the popular series.
And it's still a lot of fun with the return of Agent Jay (Will Smith) and Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) in a new adventure set around the break out of the villainous alien Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) from a lunar maximum prison to take revenge on Kay for the severing of an arm and its imprisonment, not to mention also wiping out its compatriots and protecting the Earth from annihilation. Yes, Kay is credited for plenty of work done back in his heydays of the 60s, and we're about to find out a lot more about his deadpan character, which is almost always the punching bag for Jay, who makes it his mission to reverse what Boris had set out to do, which is to travel back in time and taking out Kay.
It's MIB meets Back to the Future with its time travelling element back to the 60s, armed with only limited knowledge of his partner's whereabouts, no thanks to information being classified over and above Jay's pay grade, despite 14 years of dedicated service. The story by Ethan Cohen, David Koepp, Jeff Nathanson and Michael Soccio proved to be a winner, steering clear of having too many cooks with potential of spoiling the broth, making that time travel bit pretty much a trip down nostalgic lane, filled with incidents and prominent characters from history, such as Andy Warhol (Bill Hader) and the Apollo 11 crew, and the tongue in cheek treatment with aliens being very much leaping from typical 60s television and films.
This makes up more than its share of laughs and inside jokes that continue in the same spirit from the earlier films, even poking fun at the racial divide of the time, which provided a fair challenge for Jay as he meets up with the younger Kay (Josh Brolin) who has to be convinced that his new found friend is his partner from the future, and have to work together to rein in the 1969 version of Boris the Animal. Tommy Lee Jones made way for Josh Brolin to own the character of Jay, and in truth Brolin does a remarkable job of closely mimicking Jones, aptly adding a lot more to the back story of the legendary MIB who has his fair share of one liners, but being a little bit less stern than Jay had grown accustomed to.
Characterization also got pushed to the forefront with a deeper exploration into each of Jay and Kay's characters, backgrounds and their friendship, and this helped the film tremendously, instead of being a mediocre effort relying solely on the actors charisma and washing everything down in CG glory. There are still some surprises from the effects kept under wraps from the trailers, so that's a good thing, and I suppose much of the graphics work went into recreating 60s USA, as well as earlier, more cumbersome versions of tools of the trade that MIB uses back then. Alien designs also got a spruce up, looking far more menacing, and disgusting even, with Boris the Animal possessing and using deadly force that I'm rather surprised at for a PG rated film.
Will Smith shows that he hasn't lost his edge and still has what it takes, even after being absent from the big screen for some 4 years now (Seven Pounds and Hancock were his last outing in 2008), and still comes off as a natural, and likable as Agent Jay, with a lot more polish as an MIB veteran as compared to when he got first recruited. Tommy Lee Jones got only a supporting role this time round, with Josh Brolin left responsible to carry the role of the younger K for the most parts of the film. The Smith-Brolin pairing was also a winner, though likely to be one off only for this movie, but you can guess how any sequel made after this could go - either to continue with Smith-Jones in the current timeline, or having Brolin helm his own, partnering another Agent in adventures set in the past. And joining the cast in prominent, though limited roles, include the likes of Emma Thompson as Agent O, taking over as the new MIB Chief with the passing of Zed, Alice Eve playing the younger O, and both Michael Stuhlbarg and Mike Colter adding depth to the MIB mythos.
Still, with every time travel movie, there are paradoxes that have to be consciously ignored for everything to work. While some aspects work in having being explained away, others necessary and crucial to the plot become glaringly obvious, especially in the finale where it showed some shades of similarity from A Chinese Odyssey. But all is forgiven for something canonical to be added to the adventures of the MIB, providing audiences with new appreciation for the leading MIBs Jay and Kay, rather than to rely on louder and bigger explosions for the sake of keeping up with the summer Joneses. MIB3 is a clear winner, and worthy of what the previous two films had already set up. Highly recommended!