Men in Black 3 is not only a time travel movie, but a time machine that takes you back to when a Men in Black movie could actually be good. Too bad it can't erase Men in Black 2. But it does manage to counteract that movie's awfulness, sealing up the franchise's spot in the ranks of series known by the scientific classification of "mostly good."
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Had the threequel been awful, MIB would have been thrust into the dungeon of the damned, with Resident Evil, The Mummy and Underworld. Instead, it's up in the clubhouse, knocking down martinis and setting up tee times with Harry Potter, Mission: Impossible and the Bourne movies.
Do you realize it's been an entire election cycle since Will Smith starred in an action movie? Or any movie at all? In 2008 he popped up in Hancock and Seven Pounds. Since then, he's spent most of his time turning his children into Karate Kids and songstresses who whip their hair back and forth. MIB3 again proves its time machine qualities by zapping the megastud back into existence as if there were no gap in the timeline.
Smith is as young-seeming and boisterous as ever, and his partner, Tommy Lee Jones, is older and craggier, settling for part-time work in this outing. For much of the movie his character is played by his 1969 version, courtesy of Josh Brolin. He's so scarily excellent at matching Jones's crotchety ways that throngs of moviegoers will demand Brolin and Jones remake Freaky Friday.
There are as many ways a time travel movie can go wrong as there are unwatchable NBA playoff games, and MIB3 avoids most of them by keeping things simple, stupid and splashy. It copies off Back to the Future's paper by injecting daddy issues, sad-but-reversible deaths and a time travel method (plunging off the tops of buildings and pressing a button when you almost hit the ground) every bit as plausible as DeLorean gunning.
Men in Black's specialty has always been trotting out a parade of aliens that seemed to have been designed by 11-year-olds, rendered by 15-year-old CGI editors. The awfulness of the animation would be distracting if the image of the hideous Johnny Knoxville-faced alien from the last movie, 10 years ago, wasn't seared into the brain of anyone who suffered through that one. About at the midway point of MIB3 you stop questioning the sight of hairballs launching scorpion boomerangs from their wrists or sushi shopkeepers dropping their trousers to reveal they're Teddy Ruxpin's pal, Grubby.
The plot, such as it is, involves Big Will BASE-jumping back to 1969, to save the world, Tommy Lee Jones who was Josh Brolin when he was younger, hang out with Andy Warhol, see that the Mets win the World Series and fight a future and past bad guy in a tag team battle royale ladder match as Apollo 11 launches, secretly filling outer space with a blue laser grid that will protect us forever and ever.
Just lost you there, right? Try and forget about the story and focus on Smith's buddy cop act with two iterations of Brolin/Jones. Oh, and know that there will be gyro cycles and humongous jetpacks. And most importantly, pie.
Now that Men in Black is officially a mostly good series, maybe Smith will get back to work and stop making Rebecca Blacks off his offspring. If not, we may have to sic that blue laser grid on him.
Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin. Written by Etan Cohen, David Koepp, Jeff Nathanson and Michael Soccio, based on the comic by Lowell Cunningham. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Rated PG-13. 106 minutes.