Containing a conspiracy was so easy in 1997, the year "Men in Black" introduced Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as the sleek-suited, alien-tracking agents J and K, who handily wiped out many a memory using a pen-sized device called a neuralizer. Pretty neat, but that was before cameraphones, Twitter and WikiLeaks made secrecy seem so, well, outdated.
So how does "Men in Black 3" address the past 15 years of technology? Simple: by traveling back to a time before it existed.
That idea isn't terribly original, but it works, much like this breezy, mostly entertaining movie. The franchise is no longer the zenith of blockbusterism, and the gooey effects from Hollywood veteran Rick Baker look overly familiar, but "Men in Black 3" remains an amiable comedy with some fondly familiar faces. The loosey-goosey Smith almost wipes out our memory of his mopey "Seven Pounds," and Jones reinhabits the surly K as if no time at all had passed.
In "Men in Black 3," J goes back to 1969 to foil the plans of Boris the Boglodite (a memorably weird Jemaine Clement) with the help of a time-sensitive humanoid named Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg, more cloying than endearing). Bill Hader as Andy Warhol and Alice Eve as a pretty agent with a "Mad Men" coif provide the '60s humor, but the heart of the film is Josh Brolin as a younger, cheerier K. His rendition of a 29-year-old Jones is dead-on funny, but it's also so deeply informed -- the Texas twang, the unamused stare -- that it borders on biopic quality.
PLOT A government agent travels back in time to save his partner and the planet. RATING PG-13 (violence and gooey effects)
PLAYING AT Area theaters, some in IMAX and 3-D
BOTTOM LINE No longer the cutting-edge franchise it once was, but Josh Brolin, playing a younger Tommy Lee Jones, pumps fresh blood into the movie.
'Men 3' a very expensive sequel
As the new installment of the 15-year-old franchise "Men in Black" proves, getting to the big screen isn't always a cakewalk.
One of the most troubled productions in recent Hollywood memory, Sony Pictures' latest movie in the Will Smith-Tommy Lee Jones sci-fi-comedy franchise encountered multiple script rewrites, a discontented star and a three-month production shutdown as writers and studio executives scrambled to fix a project that nearly fell apart.
By the time it was over, the studio had run up a tab of nearly $250 million -- making "Men in Black 3" one of the most expensive releases of the summer.
"With something like 'Men in Black,' a sequel is actually more difficult than the original," said Walter Parkes, who has produced all three films. "The challenge is to be fresh and original but also deliver on the core values of the franchise."
It was a family trip to Southeast Asia about three years ago that convinced Parkes that "Men in Black" still resonated around the world; he spotted locals watching the original movie on TV in an airport. Smith, meanwhile, had a long-gestating concept for a new movie involving time travel.