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Men in Black magic, Part III, enjoys a nice landing

Emerging from the original “Men in Black” movie, in 1997, I thought that perhaps half the people in Times Square were aliens. And the Upper West Side was obviously full of aliens, too. Those people on Broadway, concentrating so hard that they seemed to be far, far away somewhere? Aliens. The central joke in “Men in Black” was so good because it was flexible and expansive and, in a lovely way, utilitarian: The aliens were not snatching our bodies and turning us into pods, as in the old science-fiction tropes; they were ectoplasmic creatures (created by specialist Rick Baker) from outer space who sought refuge on Earth from obscure intergalactic wars. A secret government agency—the Men in Black—hid them in ordinary bodies, mainly in the New York area. Well, not just in the New York area. Sylvester Stallone and Newt Gingrich? Definitely aliens. The visitors included a talking dog and a kindly-looking neighborhood jeweler, who turned out to be the king of the Arquillians.

The normalcy of the uncanny was the best part of the gag. Almost any banal object could be invested with unexpected cosmic significance: The ugly platter-like observation towers standing in the weedy ruins of the World’s Fair in Queens were actually a spaceship launch site. (“How else do you think we get them to Queens?” asked Tommy Lee Jones, one of the Men in Black. Well, that was before Queens became hip.) …

Sonnenfeld has said that the clownishness of “MIIB” was a bad idea, that the material had to return to emotion—to the bond between the two men. In order to pull that off, Sonnenfeld and screenwriter Etan Cohen called on a time-travel, back-to-the-future plot: J has to return to 1969 to prevent K from being killed by a very bad alien (Jemaine Clement), with terrible teeth, who wanted to destroy the earth. …

The movie comes to a climax in a good action sequence staged on the superstructure holding Apollo 11 in place on July 16, 1969, the day of the moon launch. And there’s a gentle epilogue which comes as a surprise. The bond is restored between K and J in a way that none of us ever expected. This time, Sonnenfeld should really quit. The franchise has arrived at a nice resting place.


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