Did we really need to go back to the late-1990s sci-fi/comedy mash-up that helped make a star out of Will Smith? Truthfully, no, we didn't. And even if there have been (allegedly) constant demands for a third adventure of the NYC alien squad, that it finally appears ten years after the disappointing/obligatory sequel is proof enough of just how desperate Columbia must have been to restart a lucrative franchise.

     Since it exists, though, it must be said that Men in Black 3 is in fact an improvement on the second film, and a lively, unpretentious, fun movie in its own right, with many similarities to the original Terminator premise of a man sent back in time to prevent a disastrous future. Here, the time-traveller is Mr. Smith's Agent J, sent back to 1969 to stop the ruthless Boglotian killer Boris "The Animal" (Jemaine Clement channeling Tim Curry) from killing Agent K and invading Earth. Tommy Lee Jones' K thus mutates into a younger version of himself played by an uncannily mimicking Josh Brolin, who slides comfortably into pretty much the same rapport with Mr. Smith as his older co-star. But the script (credited solely to Etan Cohen, but in fact featuring uncredited polishes and revisions by David Koepp and Michael Arndt among others) pretty much glides through any fish-out-of-water possibilities for the sake of having the action zip along speedily. The idea of a black man is still problematic in late-1960s America, but Men in Black 3 only touches it in passing, and former Coen Brothers DP Barry Sonnenfeld (who also helmed both previous films) handles everything in a no-nonsense, hack job way, with a number of set pieces self-consciously echoing the previous entries (like the by now obligatory Will-Smith-in-the-maw-of-a-disgusting-alien scene).

     For all that, there are two really smart additions to the series' mythology: one is Andy Warhol's Factory as club for exiled aliens and the artist himself as a man in black under disguise (Bill Hader). The other is the "five-dimensional" Arcanian Griffin, who can see all possible futures in advance and see which one will become the definitive just before it happens, beautifully played by Michael Stuhlbarg as a deadpan, anxious nerd who looks constantly like a fish out of water. Factor in Mr. Smith's usual effortless charm and a lovely supporting turn from Emma Thompson (replacing Rip Torn as new agency chief O) and you have a recipe for an enjoyably disposable blockbuster that, strictly speaking, really wasn't necessary but is good fun while it lasts.

Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alice Eve, Bill Hader, David Rasche; Emma Thompson.
     Director, Barry Sonnenfeld; screenplay, Etan Cohen, based on characters created by Lowell Cunningham; cinematography, Bill Pope (color, processing by DeLuxe); music, Danny Elfman; designer, Bo Welch; costumes, Mary Vogt; editor, Don Zimmerman; visual effects, Ken Ralston, Jay Redd; 3D visual effects, Corey Turner; make-up effects, Rick Baker; producers, Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald (Columbia Pictures, Hemisphere Media Capital, Amblin Entertainment, P+M Imagenation), USA/United Arab Emirates, 2012, 106 minutes.
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Columbia Tristar Warner screening room, Lisbon, May 16th 2012. 


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