The movie starts off rummaging through the same old bag of jokes, uptight Agent K and the charismatically snarky Agent J use their retro-styled phasers to explode slimy aliens tucked under human disguises. The setup: A single survivor of a despised Alien Race, Boris The Animal (an unrecognizable Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords) has escaped a maximum security prison on the moon. It was Agent K who put him there in 1969, and Boris’ vengeful appetite starts with K and ends with Earth’s destruction as the main course.
Things get interesting when we realize that there is an ominous secret suddenly wedged between our dynamic duo. Boris goes back in time, using a banned time jumping device from a video game store clerk, to stop K from blowing his arm off and arresting him. Agent J then must go back to 1969 to stop Boris from stopping Agent K, and of course save the world. The time jumping elements are fun and when we finally meet the young Agent K, Josh Brolin’s splendid Tommy Lee Jones impression, it’s a riot. Not to mention the time jumper facing racial tensions and the eccentricities of 1969 New York, a la Andy Warhol’s The Factory meets “Star Wars” Cantina.
Returning to 1969 is also part homage to the glory days of space travel, when Kennedy lifted the country’s spirits to the moon. It’s an interesting contrast from where the film starts: a prison on the moon. Like the “MIB3” characters, our culture is imprisoned by its past, full of secrets and mistakes, full of questions we don’t want to know the answers to. So, Sonnenfeld and screenwriter Cohen take us back to a time when anything was possible. Sure, race still blurred our perception of humanity, but it was a time when boundaries were being broken by Martin Luther King on Earth and Neil Armstrong on the moon.
All of these underlying emotions of nostalgia and patriotism brew just below an adventurous comedy and characters we know all too well. Then the film just nails it in the end with a twist that will melt your heart like Verklempt fondue. Now, that brings us back to that big, fat problem knotted up at the center of the story: that nasty little butterfly effect when you dabble in time travel. Without dropping a spoiler, I’ll just ask, how is it that Agent J ends up on the same path when Boris goes back in time and kills Agent K. Wouldn’t the drastic turn of events create an entirely new lifeline, given how integral we learn Agent K is to Agent J in the end?
Although, as Michael Stuhlbarg’s (“A Serious Man,” “Hugo”) character Griffin said, “Anything’s possible.” “MIB3” is an unexpectedly strong return to a franchise most of us we’re ready to forget about, so it’s worth the experience.