Men in Black 3, the most recent installment in the beloved franchise, comes to us ten years after its predecessor, Men in Black II, and fifteen years after the original 1997 film. But thankfully, the creative team manages to capture the essence of the series in a way that seems to pick up right where it left off, like old friends catching up (it doesn't hurt that Will Smith looks like he hasn't aged a day over the last 15 years--that guy takes care of himself!). The film includes enough familiar material to be recognizable and comfortable for the fans while introducing enough new material to feel like a fresh, welcome addition to the series.
Usually, I prepare for sequels by watching the previous films as a refresher, but in this case, I went in cold. And I was pleasantly surprised at how it hit all the familiar notes to pull me back in and remind me of all of the best aspects of the MIB world. Of course, there are some callbacks to previous jokes, such as Agent J's creative memory replacements after using the flashing "neuralyzer" on civilians, Agent K's withholding of Agent J's weapons, and the agency's witholding of information from Agent J under the assertion that it is classified and "above his pay grade." And while it is not the main focus, there is also a satisfying amount of alien blasting, firefighting, and messy explosions reminiscent of the earlier films.
Perhaps the biggest departure from the previous movies is the existence of time travel, which adds a new twist and introduces the character of young Agent K (played by Josh Brolin). Young K proves to Agent J and the audience that K was not always such a solemn, mysterious, all-business kind of guy. While he embodies the seriousness, earnestness, and talent of the older K, he also exposes a more relatable quality that endears him to the audience even more. And past or present, it is immensely satisfying to see that J's and K's chemistry is always on; this is especially displayed in the scene where they shake down some aliens in a bowling alley for information--their famously effortless comedic synergy is a highlight of the film.
Will Smith (Hancock) plays a more mature and confident but still charmingly incredulous Agent J and Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive) replicates his deadpan Agent K, but with a long-awaited vulnerability. Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men) is a convincing young Agent K whose resemblance doesn't stop at mere physical similarity. He captures Jones' Agent K and injects it with a youthful spirit. Jemaine Clement (Rio) plays Boris the Animal, the chief villain, with committed eccentricity, and Michael Stuhlbarg (TV's Boardwalk Empire) plays the charmingly odd clairvoyant alien Griffin. Emma Thompson (Love Actually) portrays Agent O, the new Chief of the Men in Black after Agent Zed's death, with wisdom and sincerity. Memorable cameos include Nicole Scherzinger (TV's The X Factor) as Boris' (ex-)girlfriend, Will Arnett (TV's Arrested Development) as Agent AA, J's annoying new partner, Bill Hader (TV's Saturday Night Live) as Andy Warhol (or Agent W), and, of course, the famously coffee-crazed worm guys at MIB headquarters.
On the whole, MIB 3 rounds out the trilogy well, striking the balance between serving up what that audience wants to see from a Men in Black movie and offering enough twists to make it a fresh experience and allowing it to stand on its own. Fans will love the way it reveals more about the histories of their favorite agents and newcomers will be hooked by its unique science fiction/comedy style. At the very least, it's good to know that the planet Earth is still safe from alien invasion...