Agents J and K are back... in time. J has seen some inexplicable things in his 15 years with the Men in Black, but nothing, not even aliens, perplexes him as much as his wry, reticent partner. But when K's life and the fate of the planet are put at stake, Agent J will have to travel back in time to put things right. J discovers that there aresecrets to the universe that K never told him secrets that will reveal themselves as he teams up with the young Agent K to save his partner, the agency, and the future of humankind.
Will Smith, Alice Eve, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson
Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, Joyce Cox
Can you think of a new movie with less reason for existing than â€œMen in Black 3â€? What? â€œBattleshipâ€? Yes, O.K. Good point. Hadnâ€™t thought of that. â€œWhat to Expect When Youâ€™re Expectingâ€? Fair enough. But still. â€œThe Avengersâ€? Letâ€™s not go there. And stop interrupting me when Iâ€™m trying to make a serious point.
Apart from the urgent necessity of reminding us that Will Smith is a movie star (and the usual need to wring a few more dollars out of a profitable franchise), â€œMen in Black 3â€ arrives in the multiplexes of the world with no particular agenda. Which may be part of the reason it turns out to be so much fun. You donâ€™t need to study up on the previous installments or master a body of bogus fanboy lore to enjoy this movie for the breezy pop throwaway it is. Your expectations may be pleasantly low, and you may therefore be pleasantly surprised when they are exceeded.
The first â€œMen in Blackâ€ movie, a playful adaptation of Lowell Cunninghamâ€™s offbeat comic books, was released 15 years ago, and a decade has gone by since the sequel â€” called â€œMen in Black 2â€ and every bit as memorable as its name â€” cashed in big and skyrocketed into the realm of bloated, tongue-in-cheek, special-effects-heavy spectacle. No. 3, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld from a script by Etan Cohen, starts out somewhat dispiritingly in that tapped-out vein, with a barrage of state-of-the-art weaponry, meticulously rendered slime and jokes that seem more than a little stale. There are no talking dogs and not too many references to the earlier installments.
For the first 20 minutes or so, nothing special is going on, and it seems that â€œMen in Black 3â€ will be content to spin its wheels and collect its money en route through the usual overscaled action set pieces toward a superloud, planet-saving final showdown. The music sounds less like a score by Danny Elfman than like a score by Danny Elfmanâ€™s smartphone app, and it carries dreadful intimations of forced fun. But even as the movie carefully fulfills its blockbuster imperatives â€” with chases and explosions and elaborately contrived plot twists â€” it swerves into some marvelously silly, unexpectedly witty and genuinely fresh territory. Go figure.
The first sign of promise is the early appearance of the interplanetary supervillain, a leonine fellow named Boris who is confined to a maximum-security prison on the Moon. Boris is played with thunderous mock pomposity by Jemaine Clement, a great and eccentric comic talent who has improved every Hollywood movie he has appeared in (â€œDinner for Schmucks,â€ â€œGentlemen Broncosâ€) and who has done New Zealand proud in â€œFlight of the Conchordsâ€ and â€œEagle vs Shark.â€
Boris and K have some history, a simmering grudge that long predates Kâ€™s partnership with J and that necessitates a bit of time travel. Somehow one of the oldest science-fiction tricks in the book â€” remember that â€œStar Trekâ€ episode with Captain Kirk, Joan Collins and Hitler? â€” becomes an occasion for oddball inventiveness. The casting helps. Not only Mr. Clement, but also Alice Eve (as Ms. Thompsonâ€™s chipper younger self), Bill Hader (as Andy Warhol, of all people) and Michael Stuhlbarg as a sweet and spacey alien who tries to help J and K.
They meet him in the summer of 1969, shortly before the Apollo 11 Moon landing and in a swirl of nostalgia as naÃ¯ve as â€œForrest Gumpâ€ and as knowing as â€œMad Men,â€ but not as sour as either. J has gone there to change the course of history, and also to find K, who turns out to be Josh Brolin doing an uncanny and hilarious Young Tommy Lee Jones.
â€œWhat happened to you?â€ J keeps asking his jovial partner, and the joke is both that the question is never answered and that it doesnâ€™t need to be.
The action spins from Coney Island to Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral), and the giddiness is spiked with metaphysical anxiety (thanks to Mr. Stuhlbargâ€™s quiet, existential freakiness) and disarming tenderness. The first two â€œMen in Blackâ€ movies did some spoofing of the conventions of the black and white, cross-generational buddy picture, but the third one finds its way back to the heart of the genre.
It manages, in the end, to be touching as well as hectic and whimsical, and to send a few interesting thematic bubbles into the air, having to do with lost fathers, obscure regrets and racial reconciliation. So maybe there is a reason, after all.