Some franchises are best left dead. Just look at “Indiana Jones.” In two hours, the beloved archaeologist went from Nazi-punching crusader to a lame version of, ironically, “MIB.” Other franchises, when resurrected, are a true return to form (See “Star Trek”). “Men in Black” has been dormant for ten years — yes, we are getting old — and unfortunately, “MIB III” is too little, too late.

Men In Black III

At Quality 16 and Rave
Columbia


Agent J (Will Smith, “I Am Legend”) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones, “Captain America: The First Avenger”) are back. The question is, should we even care? “Men in Black II,” after all, was a lazy and obvious moneymaking chore. Yet despite low expectations, “MIB III” captures the zany charmof the original with clever gags and an uncanny performance by Josh Brolin (“True Grit”).

This time around, J and K square off against an alien fugitive called Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement, “Despicable Me”). Recently escaped from prison, Boris is intent on destroying the world and goes back in time to kill the only man who can stop him — K, or a much younger K, played by Brolin.

It’s 1969, and being a time travel movie, a multitude of cheap time jokes are available for use. Alas, writer Etan Cohen (“Tropic Thunder”) couldn’t resist a few “make love, not war” hippie moments. Worse yet, “MIB III” sometimes makes the same mistake its predecessor made — recycled material. Fifteen years ago, the neuralyzer was a smart plot device. Now, after 20 minutes, the neuralyzer wears out its welcome. It’s about as cutting edge as a knock-knock joke.

Still, “MIB III” knows when to call it quits with the cheap humor. In its 103-minute run time, there’s playful race humor, self-referential moments that border on nostalgia and Smith is as witty and charming as always. While the alien designs are nothing special, “MIB III” finds ways to surprise us with imaginative gags that are both sly and slapsticky.

If there’s a character worth knowing better, it’d be K. That’s something time travel plots can do. They pull us into another time and make that period immediate to us in a way flashbacks cannot. Think of “Back to the Future” and Marty McFly’s chance to see a side of his parents he never knew existed. We were living in the 1950s. We were taking part in the action.

This brings us to Brolin. He nails Jones’s infamous thousand-yard stare: K looks as unimpressed as ever. All of K’s idiosyncrasies — and Jones’s — remain intact, yet there’s a lightness in his character we’ve never seen before. He glows at the thought of his love interest, Agent O (Alice Eve, “The Raven”). But, ultimately, O is little more than arm candy. Her relationship to K is interesting, but not memorable.

The continuity of this trilogy is episodic. All three are as strong on their own as they are together. The questions the film asks of the characters would’ve been more appropriate to answer ten years ago when “MIB II” first hit the scene.

It’s a shame, really as this latest outing was funny and clever. Unless the box office can save this franchise, then it’s time to say goodbye to another part of our childhood.

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