Arguably the least-anticipated sequel of the year, Men in Black III undoes a lot of the damage caused by the listless, lackluster 2002 follow-up that sucked the life out of what could have been a quirky, lively franchise and left dormant for a decade. MiB3 may have a arrived too late to fully revive the series (less face it, it’s been too long), but it does tie things up nicely.
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones reprise these roles as Agents J and K, respectively, the highly trained duo who police the assorted extraterrestrials secretly living on Earth. J is still a flippant smartass, K is still crotchety and terse, and it all seems overly forced and familiar until the story kicks into gear when alien fugitive Boris (Jemaine Clements of Flight of the Conchords and Flight of the Conchords) escapes from prison (on the moon), travels into the past to settle a score with K by erasing him from history, and paves the way for an invasion. J follows Boris to 1969 in an attempt to restore order, and partners up with K’s younger self (a perfectly cast Josh Brolin).
Director Barry Sonnenfeld (who also directed the first two) and screenwriter Etan Cohen approach the material in a laid back manner, apparently having learned a lesson from the bombastic overkill that made MIB2 such a drag. It’s a basic plot, and enjoyment of it comes from the details. Cohen tweaks just the right number of gags from transporting a black man from the future into the summer of ’69 without running the situation into the ground (we’re looking at you, Dark Shadows) and keeps the cornball plot moving just fast enough.
Much of MIB3‘s energy comes from Brolin’s spot-on mimicry of Jones; the movie perks up once he appears, perfectly nailing Jones’ tics and mannerisms. This early edition of K is also more accessible and — believe it or not — fun to be around, and the disconnect between the agent’s older and younger self is a plot point that drives the movie, elaborating on his character and exploring the duo’s odd-couple friendship. It is, at its core, a buddy-cop movie with little green perps.
A keen supporting cast also helps liven things up, namely Emma Thompson as Agent O, who replaces Zed (Rip Torn) as agent-in-chief; and Michael Strubahl (A Serious Man) as a kind-hearted alien who can see all possible futures at once. SNL‘s Bill Hader gives a well-played cameo as Andy Warhol when the agent’s investigation takes them to The Factory and confirms everything you ever suspected about models.