Fifteen years ago, the first “Men in Black” movie introduced the characters of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as special agents of an organization in charge of maintaining a “safe zone” for extraterrestrial-alien refugees disguised as Earthlings.
A second movie, in 2002, punched the story along with new sci-fi comedy twists.
Now, 10 years later, we catch up again with still-wisecracking Agent J (Smith) and still-grumpy Agent K (Jones), and find they’re still keeping the intergalactic peace in and around their agency’s base of New York City, still zapping bystanders’ memories of close encounters with their mind-erasing “neuralizer” wands, still shaking down law-breaking E.T.’s, still trading zippy quips and burry barbs.
Nothing much has changed with the men, the suits (black), the ties (skinny), the sunglasses, or the situation, which is undoubtedly why returning director Barry Sonnenfeld and the film’s writers decided to shake things up this time around.
After setting the stage with a prison jailbreak on the moon by a theatrically menacing new villain, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), the movie gets the gears spinning by sending Smith’s Agent J back in time to prevent an incident that would prove fatal to Jones’ Agent K---and disastrous to the planet.
This time-jump contrivance transposes the setting to 1969, which gives the movie a rollicking ride on the grooves of a swingin’ scene shakin’ all over with the confluence of bell bottoms, beehive hairdos and happy hippies. But most importantly, the time warp brings J (and the story) into a fateful intersection with the younger version of his senior partner, decades before they’d meet up otherwise.
Josh Brolin plays the 29-year-old K with an almost uncanny grasp on Tommy Lee Jones’ speech and mannerisms. It’s a real trip watching him work his acting magic.
“Saturday Night Live” actor Bill Hader has a great, hilarious scene as Andy Warhol (who knew the pop-art icon was actually an MIB agent?). Oscar winner Emma Thompson debuts as the new head of the agency, with a secretive connection to a previous, happier time when Agent K wasn’t so surly and sullen. An alien humanoid who can see into various versions of the future, the gentle Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), provides a 1969 explanation on how the Mets “miraculously” went on to win the World Series later that year.
The movie dials down the usual MIB quota of creepy-crawly alien effects and ups the human element for this trip down the time tunnel, with a running theme of mortality, fatherhood and uncovering the mysteries of the past.
But the sap never gets too syrupy. There are some cool gyroscopic unicycles, a Chinese restaurant in which the food bites back (quite literally), and a rousing slugfest atop the Cape Canaveral rocket tower as the seconds tick down to the historic launch of Apollo 11.
But mostly, there are Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and now Josh Brolin, looking cool and dashing around in skinny black suits and little ties, making us giggle here and there, and keeping the world safe so we can all rest easy … once again.