'Black' Is Back

Will Smith returns to cinemas in the enjoyable, much-delayed 'MIB III'

When a film sequel is released, I like to go back and re-watch the previous chapter. After years of huffing model glue and playing high-impact sports with no helmet, my memory isn't what it used to be, so I need to actually check the archives.

I said this about Men in Black II: "If they should make another Men in Black, I hope they allow for an extra year of post-production and effects work, because the talent involved should never have been responsible for something that looks this lousy."

With Men in Black III, they allowed for a year—and then some. It's been nearly a decade since the last chapter in the Men in Black series, something I find a little shocking. The franchise has been a cash cow, and I expected to see one every four or five years. We should be up to Men in Black V or VI by now.

But this summer brings us just Men in Black III, and thankfully, it's a return to form in some ways; for example, the effects are much better. Tommy Lee Jones, as Agent K, mentally checked out of this series after the first film, and he has a reduced role in this chapter.

Most of the heavy lifting in this installment is handled by that capable, talented egomaniac, Will Smith. His Agent J is still wisecracking with the best of them, and must travel back in time to stop a hideous alien monster (Jemaine Clement) from killing K and erasing him from history.

I enjoy a good time-travel yarn, and this is a fun one. J goes back to 1969, the year of the Amazin' Mets. Director Barry Sonnenfeld and his writers work the actual Mets World Series into the plot through a magical scene involving Cleon Jones and the now-extinct Shea Stadium. Mets fans will have tears in their eyes.

Since J is back in 1969, he will inevitably run into a younger version of his partner, played hilariously by young Tommy Lee Jones doppelganger Josh Brolin. Brolin has himself a good old time doing Jones' deadpan delivery, although his version of K is a little funnier and brighter (but not that much) than the older one. Actually, Brolin is a better Tommy Lee Jones than Tommy Lee Jones is right now.

As Griffin, an alien being who can see all of the possible futures simultaneously, Michael Stuhlbarg creates something warm and funny out of a confounding premise. In fact, much of the time-travel logic in this film is wacky, especially in the film's ending. Given the warmth of the film's finale, you will probably accept and enjoy it, even though it makes little to no sense.

Emma Thompson is Agent O, replacing Rip Torn as the master of Men in Black headquarters. (Torn, who was probably drunkenly robbing a bunch of Macy's department stores after midnight during production, has been written out of the series.) Alice Eve plays O in '69, and is a believable substitute for a young Thompson. Sadly, David Cross, who appeared in the first two chapters of MIB, is absent.

The film's funniest spot belongs to Bill Hader, who makes a cameo as undercover MIB agent Andy Warhol. Turns out Andy is getting a little tired of painting bananas and listening to sitar music. I heard a hint of Stefon, Hader's hilariously flamboyant character on Saturday Night Live, in his Warhol voice.

Men in Black III allegedly had lots of rewrites and production turmoil before it made its way to theaters. While that might be apparent in the weariness of Jones' performance, all of the other parties appear to be having a good time, and MIB III winds up being a decent summer diversion. It's not half the fun of The Avengers, but it's much better than MIB II, and Brolin is golden.

This is Smith's first film in nearly four years—his last film was the awful Seven Pounds. His Internet Movie DataBase listing states that he is currently attached to I, Robot 2, Bad Boys 3 and Hancock 2. There are also rumors of another installment of I Am Legend.

In other words, it looks like the Smith Sequel Machine will be returning to full force.