My expectations for “Men in Black III” were not particularly high.  This would be about the tenth movie based on a comic book that I’ve seen in the last year (can’t anyone in Hollywood come up with something different?).  What’s more, it would be the third “Men in Black” movie, and historically, third movies in a series aren’t terribly strong.  Lastly, it was in 3-D, which (“Avatar” notwithstanding) is still basically a gimmick typically used to astound audiences with images so they won’t recognize the plot holes or lack of character development in badly written movies.  But “Men in Black III” is so charming and witty and clever, that it greatly exceeded those pessimisms. 

            “Men in Black III” demonstrates what a shrewd script and strong direction can do for a film.  The story, based on Lowell Cunningham’s Malibu comic book and written by Etan Cohen (not to be confused with Ethan Cohen), whose portfolio includes nothing particularly notable (“Madagascar 2,” “Tropic Thunder”) could actually be a stand-alone movie, much like the original “Men in Black;” the only detail you need know is that Men in Black is a top secret US government agency created to deal with aliens here on earth.  The movie opens with the escape of the powerful evil alien named Boris the Animal from a maximum security prison situated on the moon.  The next thing we know, Kay, the curmudgeonly Men in Black partner of smooth talking Jay, has disappeared, and an astonished Jay discovers that to everyone else, Kay died in 1969.  It would seem that Boris has gone back in time to kill Kay, so Jay will now pursue the fugitive to 1969 to prevent Kay’s death.  There, a couple of nicely crafted surprises lets the audience (and Jay) in on some secrets that make the whole journey worthwhile.

This seeming reprise of “The Terminator” (and “Back to the Future” and any other time travel movie you’ve ever seen) is skillfully handled with panache and humor by director Barry Sonnenfield (the first 2 “MIB” films, “Get Shorty,” “RV”) who knows how to keep his tongue firmly planted in his cheek (unlike Tim Burton’s distracting split personality in “Dark Shadows”).  Meanwhile, Danny Elfman’s (“Chicago,” “The Wolf Man”) musical score contains the right combination of whimsy and suspense necessary to immerse the audience in the movie and maintain the proper mood.

Will Smith (“Ali,” “Hancock,” “I, Robot”) returns as Agent Jay, the perpetually optimistic chatterbox, who learns sometimes some things are better left unsaid.  Tommy Lee Jones (“No Country for Old Men,” “The Fugitive,”) also reprises his role as a sadder but still crusty Kay.  Josh Brolin (“True Grit,” “No Country for Old Men”) portrays the younger Kay from 1969 in a remarkable parody of Mr. Jones.  Emma Thompson (“Nanny McPhee,” “An Education”) plays the wily director of the Men in Black with a secret of her own, and the rest of the cast is top notch as well.

“Men in Black III” is a wonderful, entertaining, enjoyable movie with a refreshingly droll script, a capable director that keeps his talented cast in character, and enough top notch 3-D action and special effects to amuse the child in all of us.  Will it win any Oscars or other critical acclaim?  Of course not—it is a comic book story after all.  But even comic books can contain enough art (both literary and graphic) to be exciting and humorous and just plain fun.  “Men in Black III” is such a tale.