It’s been ten years since the last Men in Black movie and the world has changed a lot since the last time we saw agents J and K. This new film addresses none of that, choosing instead to leap into a time travel plot which was almost certainly thought up entirely to let them replace the increasingly elderly Tommy Lee Jones with a younger, more spry actor for all the more action-heavy parts of the film. That wrongheaded approach to movie-making should have ruined everything about this sequel, but it hasn’t. Men in Black III is the best this franchise has been since the first movie wowed audiences way back in 1997.
It works in no small part because Josh Brolin is really, really good at playing a younger and less cynical (only slightly) version of Agent K. The movie begins with Tommy Lee Jones and ends with him, but Brolin’s chemistry with Will Smith carries the middle. Even though there’s another guy playing one half of the duo, the old chemistry between J and K has never been better.
As always the Men in Black world is wildly creative filled with alien monsters and weirdos beyond reckoning. In this one we get a look at the way the secret, alien policing Men in Black organization operated in the sixties when J must travel back in time to stop an escaped alien convict from killing his partner. They don’t get too period specific here (though it does all tie in to the moon landing), and that’s fine, because aliens are weird no matter what decade they’re setting in. It’s hard to notice hippies and old cars roaming the streets of New York when there’s a giant, alien fish flapping around on the sidewalk.
The alien creatures are infinitely inventive and effective. The best of the bunch is the most subtle, a bookish little man named Griffin, who seems like anyone else, but with the ability to see all possible futures all at once. He steals scenes like a kinder, gentler Mork from Orc, giving the movie a much needed boost in all the moments when it might otherwise have run out of gas.
All that really matters with a Men in Black film is whether it’s a lot of fun, and the answer here is a resounding yes. But along with that, there’s also something smarter in writer Etan Cohen’s script of yet unseen realities and places where the past and the future connect. This is exactly what you’d hope a science fiction script written by the mind behind Tropic Thunder might look like. Thanks to Cohen’s writing, Brolin’s performance, and the always reliable Will Smith… Men in Black III is far better than we had any right to expect.