Third time’s a charm for the sharp-suited Men In Black, who rediscover their swagger 10 years after the lacklustre second instalment. Set largely in July 1969, MIB3 is a hare-brained time-travelling caper which ties up loose threads into a neat bow, suggesting this could, and perhaps should, be the end of the Smith and Jones double-act.
It would be an entertaining swansong for a franchise which burst on to the big screen in 1997 and became one of the year’s biggest hits behind Titanic and The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
Working in 3D for the first time, director Barry Sonnenfeld imbues each breathlessly orchestrated scene with impish humour, from a protracted kiss that churns stomachs to a slime-slathered skirmish with a giant fish.
A couple of the showpiece sequences merit the eye-popping format, including a final showdown that inserts J and K into an iconic moment in history.
As usual, visual gags include the flickering video wall at MIB headquarters, which monitors alien activity on Earth and outs Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Tim Burton as extra-terrestrial visitors.
The film opens in the Lunar Max high security prison where a Boglodite assassin called Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement) engineers a daring escape with help from his sexy girlfriend (Nicole Scherzinger).
The snarling supervillain plans to travel back in time and kill the man who put him behind bars and shot off his left arm: Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones).
The ripple effect causes Agent K to disappear from the future, heralding a full-scale Boglodite invasion of Earth.
“K’s been dead for over 40 years,” Agent O (Emma Thompson) tells a confused and disoriented Agent J (Will Smith) when he turns up for work.
Having ascertained the past has been altered, J also travels back to 1969, where he meets the young Agent K (Josh Brolin), who claims to be 29 years old.
“You got some city miles on you...” quips J, speaking for us all.
With assistance from the young Agent O (Alice Eve) and an otherworldly soothsayer called Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), J races against the clock to save his best friend from annihilation.
Men In Black 3 initially treats us to Smith and Jones in full flow, the former turning to his grizzled partner and sighing, “I am getting too old for this. I can only imagine how you feel.”
Once the plot steps back in time, Brolin broadly captures the deadpan delivery and mannerisms of Jones’s elder incarnation. The script largely ignores race issues of the era to concentrate on slam-bang thrills, which is a shame but would have bloated the running time, which already feels long at 105 minutes.
Stuhlbarg threatens to upstage everyone in a quixotic supporting role and Thompson lends gravitas, but invariably Smith’s wise-cracking and the imaginative production design are the constant sources of wonder.