“Men in Black 3,” surprisingly, does all that and even a little bit more. Though it’s been 15 years since the first film and 10 since the second, this latest jaunt through a world where the illegal aliens come from a little further away than Mexico makes the audience feel like they’ve never been away. It’s tonally perfect, catching the funny, detailed spirit of the original movie, but at the same time doesn’t weigh itself down with references to the old movies that would leave people lost if they didn’t remember them. It’s also funny, sweet, just a little bit touching, and makes the entire film series feel just a little more grown up.
I won’t bother summarizing too much of the plot, because as with all the “Men in Black” movies the specifics of the villainous alien and the precise way in which the world is in terrible danger don’t matter a great deal. This one includes time travel, which is a nice twist that allows for the best riff on Andy Warhol I’ve ever heard (I will never look at those soup cans the same way again), but then director Barry Sonnenfeld has always had a better touch at saving the world than getting it into trouble in the first place.
This time, though, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is also in trouble, and to Agent J (Will Smith) that’s an extremely important piece of news. The relationship between the two men is as familiar as if they really had been working together for more than a decade, and a tenderness that flares up in unexpected moments that seems entirely appropriate for a movie coming out this close to Father’s Day.
Not only is the film emotionally deeper than either of the first two movies, but there’s also a plot twist that retroactively makes both MIB and MIB2 a little more emotionally deep as well.
Of course, it’s also really funny. I’d genuinely forgotten how funny Will Smith can be (of course, “Hancock” can do that to people), and as the young Agent K Josh Brolin’s Tommy Lee Jones impression is so spot-on it’s a treat just to watch him work his magic. When they run into each other in 1969 Agent J recognizes him instantly, and there’s not a second when you can’t see the younger version of the man growing into the older one. Even the funeral manages to be entertaining while being smart enough not to overdo it.
There’s also the subtle jokes that have become the hallmarks of the series. It’s always a good rule in an MIB movie to keep an eye on the aliens being monitored, and MIB3’s explanation for models makes more sense than any I’ve ever heard. I will also now always, always remember to tip.
In the end, though, the best thing about the movie was the fact that it made me feel like I was back in a world that felt just as magical as it did the first time I visited it. There’s no Neuralyzer in the world capable of making me forget that.