“Men In Black”
Makes Timely Return
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
When I was publisher of Marvel Comics, I signed a writer named Lowell Cunningham to a contract. He had written a comic book titled “Men In Black,” an entertaining little tale with a somewhat paranoid science-fiction theme. It was being made into a movie.
Turns out, Marvel had bought Malibu, the comic book company that had bought Aircel, the company that had published Cunningham’s original comic, so it fell to me to fly out to Hollywood (Culver City, to be exact) and approve the rough cut of the movie. And that’s how I came to be hanging out with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.
At a party after the screening, you could quickly spot the difference in their styles. Jones surrounded by older women, chatting with them in an easy-going manner. Smith mobbed by younger women, him gesticulating wildly and laughing as he told a funny story.
As you remember, they played Agents K and J – two members of MIB, the secret organization that keeps extraterrestrial aliens in check. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (“Get Shorty,” “Wild Wild West”), this sci-fi comedy was followed by a sequel “Men In Black II” in which Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith reprised their roles.
Now ten years later, we have “Men In Black 3.” It’s currently making contact with earthlings at the Tropic Cinema.
Barry Sonnenfeld again directs. And Will Smith is back in full force. Tommy Lee Jones has a diminished role, for this time out he’s lost in a time-travel plotline. You see, Agent J (Smith) must travel back to 1969 to prevent an alien criminal from assassinating Agent K (Jones) and changing history.
So when Agent J does his Back-to-the-Future thing, he encounters a younger version of K (none other than Josh Brolin, doing an outrageous, spot-on Tommy Lee Jones imitation). Brushing off his Texas twang (last used in “W.” while playing George W. Bush), Brolin practically steals the show.
The modern-day agent and the blast-from-the-past agent team up to take on Boris (the alien villain played by Jermaine Clement). Emma Thompson is head of MIB and Alice Eve is her younger self. Lady Gaga has a cameo role, but then we always suspected she was an alien.
No need for a Spoiler Alert: You can assume Agent J saves Agent K because there’s talk about filming “Men In Black 4.” Director Sonnenfeld jokes, “For ‘Men In Black 4,’ Will is out and his son Jaden Smith is in.”
Although the script for “MIB3” (as the title is stylized) was written by Etan Cohen (“Tropic Thunder,” TV’s “Beavis and Butthead”), it’s still credited as being “Based on the Malibu Comic by Lowell Cunningham.”
Shucks, on the first film I forced them to add the Marvel Comics logo instead of Malibu’s. “It’s too late to add it,” they told me during post-production. “Don’t you need my approval on the finished film?” I countered. “Yes,” the Columbia exec answered cautiously. “How much money have you got in the film so far?” I continued. “About $150 million.” “Call me after you’ve added the Marvel logo and I’ll give you my approval to release the film,” I said. The exec called back within the hour.
“You’re the real man in black,” laughed Lowell, referring to the ever-present black garb that I wore at Marvel. “You kept those aliens at the studio in check.”