Men in Black 3 | Smith, Jones & Brolin tackle icky aliens with quips and cool

MEN IN BLACK 3 - Will Smith as J & Tommy Lee Jones as K

Back in time to save the future.

A decade on from their last screen outing, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’s slickly dressed, Ray-Ban-wearing agents J and K are back for Men in Black 3.

But after such a long absence, are they still up to the task of protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe? And, more importantly, is the goofy MIB formula – a mix of deadpan acting cool and eye-popping creature effects – still funny? Happily, director Barry Sonnenfeld’s ingenious sequel proves the answer is yes.

The new story finds Smith’s wisecracking J sent back in time to 1969 by new boss O (Emma Thompson stepping into Rip Torn’s shoes) to prevent bad-ass alien Boris the Animal (an OTT role for Flight of the Conchords’ Jemain Clement) from killing the young K and thereby dooming the human race. (Don’t worry; it more or less makes sense while you’re watching.)

MEN IN BLACK 3 - Josh Brolin as K & Will Smith as J

A date with destiny.

Reaching 1969 via a stomach-lurching time jump from the top of New York’s Chrysler building, J encounters the youthful K, who is brilliantly played by Josh Brolin as a not-so craggy, not-so cranky version of Jones’s sourpuss. (Brolin’s uncanny impersonation is so good that critics came out of the preview screening debating whether in fact we’d been hearing Jones’s dubbed voice.) From here, it’s a race against time to thwart Boris, with all concerned hurtling towards a date with destiny at the July 15th Cape Canaveral launch of moon-bound Apollo 11.

Once again, though, it’s not so much the plot that sustains our interest as the bickering byplay between the chalk-and-cheese agents and the fleeting visual jokes going on at the edges of the action. If the film doesn’t make as much of its 1969 setting as it might have, there is at least a neat twist on the series’ famous-people-as-aliens running gag when J and K roll into the late-60s freak-show that is Andy Warhol’s Factory and encounter its weirder-than-weird habitués.

Rick Baker’s alien make-up effects are fabulous, as we’ve come to expect. But the film’s most memorable extraterrestrial is actually Michael Stuhlbarg’s ordinary-looking Griffin, a gentle alien who can see multiple possible versions of the future simultaneously. Whether or not he can see a further Men in Black sequel remains for the Box Office to decide.

On general release from Friday 25th May.