Three new components, one of them Kiwi, bolster the entertainment value of Men in Black 3's otherwise familiar science-fiction comic silliness.
It's been 15 years since the first Men in Black (MiB), which was both a commercial and critical success, and 10 years since its MiB2 sequel, a been-there, done-that, recycled, disappointment.
Like MiB3, they starred Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as Agents J and K working for a secret government agency monitoring and countering alien activity on Earth. Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family) directed all three movies with a mix of cartoonish glee and special-effects enhancement.
The Smith-Jones pairing was the odd couple-buddy cornerstone of the first two movies – Smith's wisecracking, expressive J and Jones' laconic, pokerfaced K.
The duo – in uniform black suits and black sunglasses – jelled like two halves of a whole, tending to be more fun together than individually.
So the absence of Jones for more than half of MiB3 would be a problem except that writer Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder) came up with a clever way to replace him. Josh Brolin was cast to play K when he was 29.
Brolin, who has played George Bush in W. and worked with Jones in No Country for Old Men, is the movie's scene-stealer, doing an impressive and funny impersonation of Jones, except that his K shows cracks of light humour, with the story eventually explaining why. His scenes with Smith reverse the traditional straight-man, funny-man roles.
To introduce Brolin's K, Cohen uses a trusty if well-worn story device: time travel.
Just as Star Trek IV sent James Kirk back in time (to 1986) to save the world, MiB3 sends J back to 1969 to save the life of K, as well as saving Earth from a world-destroying rogue alien race led by a vengeful badass called Boris the Animal.
Playing Boris is New Zealand's Jemaine Clement, barely recognisable with eye-socket goggles, savage teeth and a latex face. A good villain can be the key to a successful movie and Clement brings both a menacing and amusing growling ferocity and flair to Boris. The movie even starts with Boris making a lunar prison escape.
MiB3 provides some tantalising tidbits on K's relationship with his chief Agent O (Emma Thompson in the present, and Alice Eve in 1969), has a surprise for J, gets good work from Michael Stuhlbarg as an alien nerd who foresees future possibilities and it offers a climactic confrontation coinciding with the launch of Moon-destined Apollo 11 at Cape Canaveral.
As well, there are MiB's usual assortment of weird and wacky ETs and some wild action scenes with them, but it's the inclusion of Brolin, Clement and the time-travel tale that earns MiB3 a pass mark.
- © Fairfax NZ News