Dir: Barry Sonnenfeld. US. 2012. 106mins


A decade after they last got together, Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones (for a while anyway) and director Barry Sonnenfeld are all back for the third installment of Sony’s hugely successful sci-fi comedy franchise. But while Men In Black 3 capably recreates the look and feel of its predecessors, and throws 3D and a couple of other new elements into the mix, it is distinctly short on the franchise’s characteristic wit and zany energy, suggesting that Sony will have to pull out all the marketing stops to turn a profit on this pricey - reportedly $250m - reunion.

Stars Smith and Jones deliver a few scenes of enjoyably antagonistic banter but neither seems as fully committed to this kind of comedy as in the earlier films. 

A near day-and-date global launch this week will maximise the effect of Sony’s marketing push and a Memorial Day holiday weekend opening should give MIB3 a strong start at the North American box office (where the 1997 original took $250.7m and its 2002 follow-up $190.4m).

Subsequent weekends, though, will show whether the film can attract younger moviegoers as well as the franchise’s original fans and test the pulling power of Smith, who has been off the big screen for nearly four years.

Results from the international arena (in which the first film did $338.7m and the second $251.4m) could be as strong or stronger than those for the earlier entries thanks to the international appeal of 3D and the emergence, since MIB2, of new markets such as Russia and Brazil. 

Scripted by Tropic Thunder co-writer Etan Cohen, the new film puts ET-policing partners Agent J (Smith) and Agent K (Jones) into a confusing time travel plot set in motion by the escape from prison of alien monster Boris the Animal (Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement), one of K’s old busts. Boris goes back in time to kill K and prepare the way for his race to invade the Earth. J follows and teams up with K’s younger self (played by True Grit’s Josh Brolin) to foil Boris’ plan. 

The mix of comedy, action and effects is basically the same as in the earlier installments, though the effects - and the aliens, once again created by Rick Baker - are a bit more impressive and the comedy not as goofily funny.

New elements include Brolin, the conventionally utilised 3D, a middle act set in 1969 and a more emotional sub-plot involving J and K’s relationship and history together.  

Brolin is certainly believable as the young K but he’s not allowed to bring much new to the character and he doesn’t have the chemistry with Smith that Jones, who only appears in the present day first act and at the end of the story, does.

The sixties segment allows for some mildly clever jokes - about race relations and pop culture, among other things - and includes an impressive recreation of the launch of the Apollo 11 moonshot.

Other new characters include female MIB chief O, played by an underused Emma Thompson, and a slightly creepy multi-dimensional alien (Hugo’s Michael Stuhlbarg) who guides J and K through their time trip.

Stars Smith and Jones deliver a few scenes of enjoyably antagonistic banter but neither seems as fully committed to this kind of comedy as in the earlier films. 

Production companies: Columbia Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, P+M Image Nation

Worldwide distribution: Sony Pictures

Producers: Walter F Parkes, Laurie MacDonald

Executive producers: Steven Spielberg, G Mac Brown

Screenplay: Etan Cohen

Director of photography: Bill Pope

Production designer: Bo Welch

Editor: Don Zimmerman

Music: Danny Elfman

Website: www.meninblack.com

Main cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Emma Thompson, Michael Stuhlbarg