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Men in Black 3' surprisingly strong

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Will Smith's screen return has humor and heart

When I initially heard about 'Men in Black 3,' I didn't think much of it. It's summertime; of course there are going to be blockbuster sci-fi/action sequels. That's just how it works. But when I sat down to actually watch the movie, something obvious only just then occurred to me.

I have never reviewed a Will Smith movie.

His last film was 'Seven Pounds,' released in 2008 (well before my published film criticism began). Despite the fact that Will Smith is (I think) still considered one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, he hasn't opened a movie in four years.

To make a comeback with 'MIB3' of all things seems odd. While the first film was well-liked, the second wasn't so lucky. There was a reason the series petered out. And yet I was oddly hopeful. I have fond memories of the original 'Men in Black,' with Smith at the height of his powers maybe the decade-plus distance would help invigorate the proceedings.

Smith is back as Agent Jay, alongside now-longtime partner Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones, 'Captain America: The First Avenger'). The relationship between the ebullient Jay and the quietly cantankerous Kay remains lovingly antagonistic. Unfortunately, a murderous alien known as Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement, TV's 'Flight of the Conchords') has escaped from his lunar prison. Kay put Boris away 40 years ago and Boris wants his revenge.

Time travel-style.

Boris goes back in time (to July of 1969) to kill Kay before Kay defeats him. When he does so, Kay disappears from the present. Unfortunately, so does the defensive shield that Kay erected (again, in the past) to protect Earth from the rest of Boris's race. Jay is the only one who remembers the reality in which Kay existed, so he decides to go back and undo the undoing.

Upon arriving in the past, Jay meets the 1969 version of Kay (Josh Brolin, 'True Grit'). After some initial conflict, the two team up to try and prevent Future Boris from helping Past Boris succeed in killing Kay and opening up the Earth to invasion.

This movie works. It just works. Happily, director Barry Sonnenfeld has managed to recapture a lot of the spirit of the first film. It clips along at a brisk pace and doesn't let itself get too bogged down with excesses. Sonnenfeld avoids getting too wrapped up in the CGI and technical foofaraw he uses it smoothly and lets his cast do most of the heavy lifting.

Good choice. Wisecracking Will Smith is impossible not to like, but it had been a while since we had seen him. He's still engaging as all get out, apparently. Jones is his usually deadpan craggy self. Brolin absolutely shines as the young Kay; he captured Jones's mannerisms, his inflections, his tone it was uncanny. In fact, it was so good that after a few minutes, you forgot that he was doing an imitation.

They aren't the only standouts. Clement is creepily captivating as Boris. Emma Thompson ('Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows') is her usual excellent self as Agent O. However, the supporting highlight had to be Bill Hader ('Paul') as Andy Warhol. The scene at Warhol's Factory is easily the funniest of the film.

'Men in Black 3' is a surprisingly strong return to the game for Will Smith. It's a well-built popcorn movie. There are plenty of laughs to be had, but the action side of things is solid as well. There are a few weak spots, but so what? Summer movies are supposed to be fun, and on that front, 'MIB3' succeeds.

4 out of 5

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