Not every third movie installment has to be abysmal, as we all saw in 2010 with the thoroughly enjoyable and heartwarming Toy Story 3. But it's also understandable to live in fear after the various "third" horrors, like Rocky III (starring Mr. T) or the confusing and unnecessary Back to the Future 3. I went into Men In Black 3 fully expecting the latter, to be disappointed by an antiquated franchise and to see several A-list actors phoning it in.

Imagine my surprise when, after a semi-clunky beginning, I actually found Men In Black 3 to be engaging and fun, despite the use of time travel as the major plot point. Starring our old favorites, Will Smith (Agent J) and Tommy Lee Jones (Agent K), we jump back into the alien-fighting fray almost immediately as an extraterrestrial mastermind (Boris The Animal, played expertly by Jemaine Clement) escapes from his lunar prison to take over Earth.

It's not that cut-and-dry, of course, as Boris must travel back in time to successfully kill Agent K. In most cases, when films (and to some extent, TV -- ahem, Heroes) incorporate time travel into plotlines, things get convoluted quickly, and often there's no way out of the muck. Thankfully, director Barry Sonnenfeld and his writers keep it simple, without annoying back-and-forth trips and overlapping eras. In fact, the time travel sequences are visually pleasing, and it's fun to watch Smith as he "jumps" his way through space and time.

Agent J learns of Boris' plot, and travels back to 1969 in order to save his partner from certain death. This is where we meet the young, outgoing Agent K (Josh Brolin), who nails the to-be curmudgeon role with his stern brow and subtle smirk. Another concern of mine going into Men In Black 3 was the relationship between Brolin and Smith; I wasn't fully convinced that the pair's chemistry could match that of Smith and Jones, but it's solid. After seeing Brolin in the role, you almost feel bad for Jones. He certainly isn't a spring chicken anymore, that's for sure, despite the pounds of makeup they pile on him.

Speaking of makeup, the effects aren't a marvel by any stretch, but the cornucopia of aliens and strange beings are always fun to look at, and some of the "fishy" species at the beginning of the movie are giggle-worthy. It's these little details and the supporting characters on the fringes of Men In Black 3 that save the movie. Aside from the aforementioned Boris (who is just so deliciously evil, with teeth, voice and eyes to match), scene-stealers include Emma Thompson (as psuedo-love interest Agent O) and Michael Chernus as the ubiquitous comic book guy.

One character, though, doesn't just steal scenes -- he almost steals the entire movie. Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg) is the last of his species, a protective, emphatic being who simultaneously exists in the past, present and future. Any scene featuring his character is automatically better than any of the rest, enough that I found myself wishing they would make him Agent G and bring him into the fold.

Sure, there are some shoddy aspects to Men In Black 3, but they're buried underneath a heartwarming story that'll draw you in (which I cannot reveal here, lest I ruin the movie for you). We can forgive the occasional dull dialogue, plot holes and rampant cheesiness, because hey, this is a franchise that has laid dormant for 10 years, and they really could have butchered it. Instead, we get another chance -- probably the last one -- to revel in the adventures of the Agents as they battle some aliens.

While not entirely necessary, Men In Black 3 adds a pleasant bookend to the franchise, and fits nicely into the summer blockbuster roster.

CATEGORIES Movies