With so many questions surrounding the 2012 Hollywood summer film lineup, you might forget about one of the most intriguing: Can a film franchise, without a major contribution in 10 years and a poorly received second effort, become relevant again? If recent examples (such as Indiana Jones and Rocky) are any indication, filmgoers are in for another disappointment. In fact, resurrecting the Men in Black franchise is not something one would bank on as a surefire hit. The franchise is not even in the top 25, with the Home Alone and Alvin & The Chipmunks series beating MIB by $100 million or more. So, is Men in Black 3 a rousing return for the boys in black, or is the 10-year gap too long to sustain this franchise?
The answer is in the affirmative: smart, a little sassy, and full of the qualities that made the original a hit, Men in Black 3 is fun summer fare that erases the din of the second installment like Agent J's Neuralizer. Written by Ethan Cohen (Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?), the film reunites Agents J (Will Smith, I Am Legend) and K (Tommy Lee Jones, Captain America) as Earth-based alien cops and keepers of the galactic peace, all the while engaging in verbal sparring matches reminiscent of old married couples. But, when K's nemesis Boris The Animal (Jermaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords) escapes a moon-based jail and steals a time travel device, J learns that his partner has been killed in the past and that the Earth will soon be destroyed by Boris' posse. Armed with his own device, J jumps back to 1969 to save K (played in these sequences by True Grit's Josh Brolin), rescue the Earth, and defeat the past and future Borises.
Cohen's story gives enough nods to the franchise without sticking around too long or regurgitating too many. He and director Berry Sonnefeld (Get Shorty) work as well together as our heroes, briskly moving the 103-minute tale but taking enough time to savor key moments of story revelation. This attention to dialogue and character development are MIB3'sbest parts, and additions such as the time-bending Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man) and a well-chosen replacement for Rip Torn's Zed (Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility) help to carry the film in key parts, offering necessary but enjoyable bridges between acts. But it's Brolin's dead-pan act as the younger K which steals most scenes in the film, proving that he could be Tommy Lee Jones in about 20 years. And while Cohen and Sonnefeld allow Brolin to shine, it's the story of K that's so appealing. We gain key insights into his tough exterior, which will richly reward the audience for sticking around. Throw in an important plot twist near film's end that helps to tie the series together, and you have a fun summer ride that doesn't try to be more than what it is. That isn't a condemnation, rather a celebration of good story telling.
Moviegoers should brush up on their MIB history before seeing 3, as their enjoyment level will be greatly raised by knowing a little more about our characters. Beyond that, grab your popcorn and enjoy a nice summer surprise hidden among sinking battleships, overrated childbirths, and ho-hum romantic comedies. Men in Black 3 is that good, and is rated PG-13 for action, some light sexual situations, and plenty of alien goo.
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