Contradicting the usual rule for sequels, each Men In Black sequel has been fresher and more fun than the movie before it.
Not just the funniest film in the series, Men In Black 3 has the best story of them all. It’s also got returning leading men Will Smith as Agent J and both Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K and Josh Brolin as a younger but still inscrutable K.
While the basic ingredients in the new MIB movie are well-worn sci-fi ingredients — including time travel that allows Brolin to play Agent K in 1969 and an imminent alien invasion that signals the end of the world as we know it — returning director Barry Sonnenfeld, writer Ethan Cohen and the cast mostly keep the movie light on its feet.
A decade after Men In Black II, J and K are matched against a ruthlessly determined alien whose goals are to invade Earth, suck it dry to the point of destruction and then move on to the next doomed planet.
Playing sometimes poignant counterpoint to the devastating global consequences that will ensue should J and K fail, the relationship between the longtime partners is covered more here than in the two previous films. It’s through this part of the story that Men In Black 3 is both a continuation of the series and a prequel to 1997’s Men In Black.
In the year 2012, Smith and Jones are back in J and K’s black suits and ties and white shirts, working the alien beat for their super-secret federal agency.
The organization has broad responsibilities, handling the policing and surveillance of extraterrestrials as well as immigration and refugee matters.
Cute, funny, harmless, friendly aliens appear in Men In Black 3 but they’re mostly incidental characters, including the multicolored fish K uses to “fish-slap” a restaurant-owning alien who isn’t playing by the rules.
The movie concentrates its alien scenes upon Boris the Animal, a particularly mean and ugly creature played by Jemaine Clement from HBO’s musical comedy series Flight of the Conchords.
Clement is all about planet-busting business as Boris, an unwelcome visitor arrested for murder by K in 1969 and imprisoned on the moon.
Digital effects having come a long way since the first Men In Black movie, Boris’ menacing, literally animated face and hand are a horror show unto themselves.
Boris escapes from his lunar jail cell after 43 years of incarceration. Agent K being the reason he’s been out of circulation since Richard Nixon’s only full term as president, Boris time-trips to 1969 for the purpose of killing K before the stoic man in black can arrest him.
Brolin is perfect as the 1969 version of K. Just 29 years old then, the character’s deadpan expression, low-key manner and penchant for saying as few words as humanly possible already are fully developed.
K is cold, J is hot and, as always, they form a classic pair of mismatched partners in conflict, and funny as they’ve ever been.
Emma Thompson co-stars as O, the new MIB chief. A fine comic actress, she’s got an amusing scene but mostly stays out of the picture. Michael Stuhlbarg gets significant screen time as Griffin, a human-friendly alien with a great sense of timing whose planet has been destroyed by Boris and his kind.
Men In Black 3 works best when it stays active and amusing. It succeeds when it touches on some heavier themes, too, but sputters when occasionally going too deep.
Best to stick with entertaining, something this second sequel nearly always does very well.