After a decade of being MIA, the black suits are back to defend the galaxy in MIB III. You’d think in that time we’d become neuralyzed to the charms of the first two episodes, but then we’re hit with a strategically placed portrait of a pug and a quick shot of the worm guys and we’re already grinning at the resurfacing memories. The banter between Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K and Will Smith’s Agent J is left intact, but time has claimed Zed’s life (a quick glance at Rip Torn’s off-screen activity will reveal why) and Jones doesn’t look like he could last two rounds with a Ballchinian. He’s world-weary, insisting that J “stop asking questions you don’t want to know the answer to.”
The plot orbits a pivotal incident in 1969 where K saved Earth by blowing the arm off Boris the Boglodite and ending his evil alien race. Now Boris is back for revenge, escaping from his lunar-based prison with the help of Nicole Scherzinger as Lilly Poison, a cameo cleavage that saunters in and exits a little less alluringly. The songstress isn’t the only implied alien, with Lady Gaga, Tim Burton and Mick Jagger dragged through the otherworldly dirt for our amusement. “We were worried he was sent here to mate with Earth women,” K says of the Rolling Stones mouthpiece, against the psychedelic backdrop of Andy Warhol’s Factory. Everything is slicker, shinier and bigger in the ‘60s with battery-powered neuralyzers and a mobile phone that could be used as a weapon in itself
Unfortunately the aliens don’t fare as well, looking like guys in fancy dress hire rather than the intended relics of retro cinema. Makeup artist Rick Baker’s best work is poured into baddie Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement), whose deadly combo of prosthetics and CGI make him an anatomical marvel, flesh shifting to fire bone into the skulls of his enemies. Naff name aside, he’s a credible foe whose Hell’s Angel guise and deep villainous voice (British accent, naturally) presents a genuine threat. This character alone goes some way to redeeming the downfalls of the sequel, which proved three heads were worse than one with Lara Flynn Boyle and Johnny Knoxville’s pantomime villainy.
It’s a film that doesn’t outstay its welcome, partly due to the sheer entertainment factor but also because Sonnenfeld sticks to his rigid less-than-100-minutes rule. Because of this, Emma Thompson and Alice Eve are left slightly short-changed as Agent O, the new head of MIB and love interest for K. If they had been allowed half the puppeteer master cool of M in Bond, it would have been a welcome addition to the male-dominated headquarters but instead, Thompson makes do with one good gag and Eve is reduced to a walking hairdo.
Somewhat surprisingly for a script written on the fly and a production that was halted in the middle, this goes by virtually unnoticed. The franchise has never been one for high concept storytelling, going straight for the visual every time, and this instalment is no different. You could happily watch it without seeing the previous instalments but those who have will enjoy the invented back-story between the two beloved leads. It’s a testament to Josh Brolin’s uncanny impression of a younger, less jaded K that means we feel like we’ve had our J and K fix, despite Jones only appearing for 15 minutes. Whilst MIB III wraps up the series neatly, there’s talk of a fourth already and you can’t help but feel the joke is wearing a little thin.