To my great surprise, I am recommending “Men in Black III” as a fun summer diversion. A significant improvement over the weak “MIB II,” (2002), Josh Brolin’s uncanny impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones (Agent K) energizes the film and gives it a fresh feel. Brolin plays the young Agent K, as Will Smith’s Agent J must travel back to July 1969 to prevent K’s death and save the planet. In the aftermath of this week’s depressing “Mad Men” episode, “The Other Woman,” “MIB III” is a refreshingly upbeat and humorous take on the 1960s, closer in spirit to “Back to the Future.” As a result, the film is replete with references to one of the most exciting years in recent American history. (SPOILERS TO FOLLOW)
The 1969 World Series victory of the “Amazin’ Mets” is pivotal to the storyline. In a diner, J and the young K encounter disgruntled New York Mets fans, frustrated that their team is experiencing another disappointing year. K doesn’t believe J when he tells him that the Mets are going to win the World Series, as the team is well behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League East standings and have never had a winning season since their arrival in Queens in 1962. Another character, Griffin, who has the power to see possible futures, shows them how it happens when they all go to Shea Stadium.
Indeed, the “Miracle Mets” came from behind to win the World Series that year, chasing down the Cubs because of their great young pitching, led by future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman. Another future Cooperstown inductee, Nolan Ryan, played a smaller role as a reliever. After winning the division, the Mets defeated the Braves in the first National League Championship Series and then upset the heavily favored American League champion Baltimore Orioles for the title. The movie accurately reveals that the Orioles’ Davey Johnson flew out for the last out in the five game series, ironic given that he managed the Mets’ next world championship team in 1986.
The film features a number of smaller historical touches. Smith returns a black power salute to a man at a party held by Andy Warhol in Manhattan. The black power movement gained momentum in the second half of the 1960s as many younger militants became disillusioned with Martin Luther King’s non-violent approach. The most famous black power salute occurred in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, when U.S. track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their firsts during their medal ceremony after winning the gold and bronze in the 200-meter race.
During the film’s climax, K and J must place a shield around the planet to prevent an alien invasion. When the agents ask Griffin how to deploy it, he tells them it’s “just one small step,” a reference to the famous line Neil Armstrong uttered when first walked on the lunar surface, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” K and J battle to place the shield on the top of the Saturn V rocket that will launch Apollo 11 to the moon with Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins aboard on July 16, 1969. Once the agents are successful, the timeline is restored (Doc Brown would be proud!).
In a previous post, I said “Men in Black III” was highly unnecessary and that the film’s release would seriously test Will Smith’s box office clout. The movie proved to be entertaining while the weekend gross reveals that even after a three-year absence, the actor formerly known as the “Fresh Prince” remains the only Hollywood star who can guarantee a hit film.