Will Smith reminds you how he used to be all about the summer blockbuster with Men in Black 3, a light but cute sequel to a series that, let’s face it, you sort of forgot existed.
And, hey, why wouldn’t you? Men in Black 2 was 10 years ago, before the new Batmans, the same year as what is now the old Spider-man franchise started. That’s a lot of summer extravaganzas between now and then.
Luckily, this isn’t a movie that requires you to remember a lot of back story. Fast-talking Agent J (Smith) and curmudgeonly Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) are still partners in the alien INS-type organization known as Men in Black. The escape of Boris The Animal (Jermaine Clement) imperils the world but is especially troubling to K, who is still haunted by the something that happened back in the 1960s when Boris was originally captured. K and J argue about why K won’t tell J what that something was. The next day, J comes to work expecting to make up with K but nobody knows who J is talking about. K died back in the 1960s, Agent O (Emma Thompson), the new leader of Men in Black, tells J. But J convinces her that he really does know K and the two figure out that someone’s been messing with the time line. J is sent back in time to the ’60s to save K from Boris and to stop the invasion of Earth that begins just as he’s making the big time leap. New York in the ’60s isn’t so different, and neither is Men in Black, where a younger but still taciturn K (James Brolin) is hunting Boris.
Men in Black 3 actually doesn’t spend a lot of time making a gag out of the blast to the past, which is probably for the best. The movie doesn’t have to slow the action for endless “Ha! Rotary telephones”-type jokes and instead more or less sticks to the one joke, which is how good a Tommy Lee Jones impression James Brolin does. And it is good — good enough to be fun, good enough to let us believe it is the same character.
The movie ultimately doesn’t let much of anything weigh it down. The look of the movie — the cartoony aliens and the comic-booky Men in Black — is the visual pop that carries over to the tone and story. It’s cartoony in this place, actiony fun in that, none too heavy or even too jokey anywhere. I enjoyed the movie tolerably well while watching it, but it left no lasting impression. It is a very good fast food milkshake — goes down smooth, not super filling, with a flavor you’re unlikely to wake up craving.
I saw this movie in 3-D, and while there were, maybe, two effects that seemed particularly cool (a laser grid that comes at you, a time portal that has some dimension to it) it is mostly subtle but unnecessary. Which is good, because I think the selling point of Men in Black 3 is the same as the selling point of many a Will Smith movie, which is that it is solid family entertainment (in a family where the kids are maybe 11 and older). Men in Black 3 is not as fun as I (vaguely) remember Men in Black being, but it is as fun and scrappy as it needs to be. B-
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and written by Etan Cohen, Men in Black 3 is an hour and 46 minutes long and is distributed by Sony Pictures.