Men in Black 3

FILM REVIEW: A decade after part two, Sony's franchise recovers the original's magic.

Finding smart ways to bring novelty to the franchise without forsaking what made the original so much fun (and in fact doubling down on some of those qualities), Barry Sonnenfeld's third Men in Black easily erases the second installment's vague but unpleasant memory and (though we might hope producers will quit while they're ahead) paves the way for future installments. It's hard to imagine it won't be a hit, and hard to begrudge that success, no matter how saturated we are with comic-book properties.

The script, credited solely to Etan Cohen despite many rumored contributors, finds a way to give Will Smith the lion's share of screen time while involving us more emotionally in the character of Tommy Lee Jones' Agent K. After a time-traveling villain kills K in 1969, Smith's Agent J must travel back to prevent the murder -- where he discovers a youthful, less stony K (Josh Brolin, easily conjuring Jones' Texas deadpan) and can't stop wondering what happened to sap the man's joie de vivre.

The movie deploys most of its creepy-crawly ETs in the first act, with baddie "Boris the Animal" chief among them. Flight of the Conchords co-star Jemaine Clement goes full-tilt ferocious in the role, living up to Rick Baker's genuinely disgusting design for the character.

Boris breaks free from a moon-based prison in a high-energy opening scene. He makes his way to Manhattan, then time-travels to kill the man who once blew off his arm while foiling his plans to conquer Earth for the Boglodite species. The film soon sends Smith back using a time-travel method that makes little sense -- for some reason, plummeting from the Chrysler Building is required -- but is a lot of fun to watch.

Moving briskly once in the '60s, the pic has fun envisioning a lower-tech version of Men in Black gear and working in pop-culture details (a nice gag involves Andy Warhol) without slowing the action. The filmmakers find a convenient resolution for all chrono-conflict confusion in the person of Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), an alien who's able to see all possible futures simultaneously. J and K eventually wind up at Cape Canaveral for climactic action involving the launch of the first moon mission. Though some plot twists are easy to spot, they're no less satisfying for being telegraphed.

3D is as irrelevant as ever here, but fortunately the gimmick does nothing to dim the jewel tones of Bill Pope's appealing cinematography. Other production elements, like Danny Elfman's score, continue the winning look and feel established in the first film.

Opens: Friday, May 25 (Columbia)
Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld Rated PG-13, 106 minutes

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