While Will Smith might these days be more interested in promoting his son’s career than his own, there was a time when the man reigned supreme as the indisputable king of the box office. For almost a decade, starting the mid-nineties, in an industry where nothing is certain the one equation in the universe that remained constant was: Summer + Will Smith = $$$. Times have inevitably changed, however, and the era of star power is well and truly over.

These days the franchise is king, and while this franchise might have been a flashy, energetic, high-concept buddy comedy with both smarts and laughs, it has sat idle for ten-years now. ‘Too old for this shit’? Could be. In a summer dominated by superheroes, eighties reboots, and fashionable teen-lit adaptations, this threequel which reunited Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as Agent’s J and K, respectively, was not exactly high on anyone’s must-see list. Pre-release, Will Smith’s ridiculous trailer seemingly bagged more column inches than the actual movie.

Opening with an impressive lunar jailbreak MIB3 introduces us to the movies’ big-bad, Boris The Animal, a hulking alien assassin who vaguely resembles a professional wrestler dipped in a vat of toxic waste, played by Flight of the ConchordsJemaine Clement. Quickly snagging himself a portable time travel device (which is never explained, btw), Boris hightails it back to 1969 where he intends to avenge himself on a young Agent K (Josh Brolin) and trigger a present-day alien invasion of Earth. It’s up to Agent J to stop him.

Not unaware of the challenges facing them, returning director Barry Sonnerfeld, Smith – who reportedly had a big hand in development – and scripter Etan Cohen seemingly decided that they could not out-pizazz the competition, and instead have sought to temper the snappy goings-on with a little pathos, and imbue the story with some heart and a little depth, something summer blockbusters are so often accused of being bereft of.

It’s a not-unwelcome idea, and the ‘bromance’ angle – cleverly taking advantage of time passed to imply a great deal of character development there would not otherwise be time for – is well-done. Yet what was sacrificed to make room is the secret ingredient this otherwise campy, discombobulated storyverse had going for it – the funny! Boris is an imposing presence, offering a credible threat, but the movie does beg the question as to why Clement was cast if no one was going to bother to write him any jokes?

With Tommy Lee Jones (boy, does he look tired!) tasked with being sullen and Josh Brolin (boy, does he look bored!) tasked with being stoic, it is left to Smith to provide the laughs. Yet with all the ultra-noble, self-sacrificing being thrown around the only thing there seems time to stop and laugh at are the racial politics of America in the late nineteen-sixties (which, you know, were so very funny…).

Yet through Smith’s sheer force of personality this remains an enjoyable addition to the franchise, and it’s tough to knock a picture these days for daring to try to think outside its comfort zone a little bit. In trading easy jokes for a more drawn out exploration of the central duo’s underlying relationship, Men in Black 3 brings the story full circle having simultaneously managed to take it in a whole new direction. It’s really just a matter of personal taste as to whether or not it’s a direction you wanted this particular franchise to go.

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