After a 10-year absence from the big screen, agents J and K (Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, respectively) are back to save the world from aliens (yes, again) in "Men in Black 3." After the widely panned "MIB2," this third installment is all about time travel — both in terms of plot and in trying to recapture the quirky fun of the original 1997 film. For many critics, the film has done just that, largely thanks to the addition of Josh Brolin.
The Times' own Betsy Sharkey writes, "'Men in Black 3' has got the MIB mojo back — well, most of it anyway." The film "has recovered some of the brashness and all of the unbridled affection for the weird, wonky otherworldly types that made the initial 1997 cosmic comedy such a kick," and Brolin's turn as K's younger self is "a casting coup." Brolin channels Jones "brilliantly" without sticking to a slavish impersonation, and the end result is "campy fun if not quite a classic."
The New York Times' A.O. Scott finds "MIB3" to be a movie "with no particular agenda. Which may be part of the reason it turns out to be so much fun." Though the film starts slowly, eventually "it swerves into some marvelously silly, unexpectedly witty and genuinely fresh territory," Scott says. Jemaine Clement ("Flight of the Conchords"), playing a time-hopping supervillain, brings "thunderous mock pomposity" to the proceedings, while Brolin is "uncanny and hilarious." Other game cast members include Alice Eve, Bill Hader and Michael Stuhlbarg.
Ty Burr, of the Boston Globe, calls Brolin "the film's most remarkable special effect." His performance, Burr says, "is funny, masterful, confident, and more than a little unsettling." The rest of the film "is about as good as one could hope for from an unnecessary sequel that’s a decade late to the party." Burr agrees with Scott that the first act drags and the story "feels pro forma," but once things get going there are moments of "deft, absurdist entertainment."
Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, deems "MIB3" "better than the first one" and echoes Burr in calling Brolin's young Agent K "the movie's most impressive achievement." The film also offers "an ingenious plot, bizarre monsters [and] audacious cliff-hanging," if that's your thing.
Hearst film critic Amy Biancolli ranks "Men in Black 3" as "not quite as fresh" as the original film but "a heck of a lot better" than the second. "Abundant humor, dabs of heartbreak and a suspenseful, vertiginous climax go a long way toward compensating for any logical lapses or cliches."
A few critics have proved somewhat immune to Brolin's charms, including the Village Voice's Nick Pinkerton, who writes that the actor does "a fair TLJ impersonation." It's not enough to save the film from "ubiquitous timidity" and "bland formula."
Whether J and K will return for future adventures remains to be seen. But in a world populated by aliens and time travelers, stranger things have happened.
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— Oliver Gettell
Photo: Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in "Men in Black 3." Credit: Wilson Webb / Columbia Pictures