‘Men in Black III’ steps back in time to freshen franchise
‘Men in Black III’ steps back in time to freshen franchise

Really “Men in Black” is the perfect summer-blockbuster franchise. It boasts the high concept of a top-secret law enforcement agency that monitors alien activity on earth, but at its heart, it is basically a nimble and traditional police procedural.

It also features the pitch-perfect chemistry of its two leads, the fast-talking, and super-cool Will Smith as Agent J, along with the gruff, hard-edged Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K. Throw in a healthy helping of laughs and some stunning special effects and, voila, you have the perfect recipe for a thoroughly entertaining night out at your local multiplex.

Of course, it’s been 10 years since “Men in Black II” ( that makes you feel old doesn’t it?), which means more than enough time has passed for “Men in Black III” to deliver a welcome, if not overly familiar return to the franchise.

Look, the original “Men in Black” will always be the best because it is impossible to replicate the thrill of being introduced to this wild universe with the equally bewildered yet entirely capable Smith serving as our surrogate.

But “Men in Black III” proves that it’s always fun to save the galaxy with Agents J and K, even when bravely facing down the law of diminishing returns.

“MIB3” went into production with an unfinished script and still manages to feel underwritten even with five different people landing screenwriting credits.

To compensate for the lightweight plot, director Barry Sonnenfeld went out and cast the heck out of the supporting roles and doubled down on the action sequences to deliver a completely serviceable summer flick.

The crux of the plot involves time travel as an alien baddie named Boris the Animal (the always enjoyable Jemaine Clement), put away by Agent K escapes from prison, travels back to the ’60s to kill K, and pave the way for an alien invasion in the present.

J travels back to 1969 to save both the earth and his partner. In some inspired casting, Josh Brolin plays a young K and delivers the best impersonation of an actor playing a younger version of a character he’s already established since Rob Lowe absolutely nailed Robert Wagner in the “Austin Powers” movies.

Another welcome addition is Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin, a nervous little alien who can see all possible futures and who possesses a device that will prevent Boris’ buddies from destroying the earth.

Admirably filling in for the late, great Rip Torn as head of MIB is Agent O as played by Emma Thompson, who always manages to class up any operation.

“MIB3” makes some fun ’60s references, including a few edgier nods to some of the difficulties Smith runs into as a black man in the Civil Rights Era.

I still can’t help but feel that the movie left quite a bit on the table and it would have been nice if our main characters had been pushed to grow and develop a little bit more or if the plot didn’t feel so rushed.

Plus, I’ll issue my standard “unless you really love 3D, you should just save your money and see it in 2D because there isn’t really that noticeable a difference” warning.

But these are just quibbles as “MIB3” meets all its expectations and while it doesn’t raise the bar to the next level, it does clear it well enough that I would be more than willing to sit through “MIB4.”

“Men in Black III” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content.

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