Whether you're a reviewer or a regular film fan, there are a few danger signs that mark a film out as a potential stinker.
The top three are: The threequel, the long-delayed addition to the franchise, and a press screening very close to the release date.
Men In Black 3 is batting three for three in that game. And yet it still, against the odds, comes out on top.
We all know you don't go back to a lit firework. And you sure as hell don't bother with a firework that wrote its sulphurous signature on the sky fourteen years ago, but for fans of the first two MIB flicks there's a lot to like here. In fact in terms of tone and style there's comparatively little that's new at all. Fans wanted more of the same, and they're going to get it.
Barring a few CGI synthaliens it's just the two principals returning from the original movies. Rip Torn's Agent Z has been written out, to be replaced by the lovely Emma Thompson and/or the equally lovely in a very different way Alice Eve as Agent O. And yes, that is Nicole Scherzinger up there with the cake. Personally, I was just excited that there was cake.
Tommy Lee Jones lends his rumpled visage to the framing 'present day' elements of this time travel yarn, but it's really Will Smith's film.
Smith is in practically every shot and he is, fortunately, pretty good in every shot too. Even the entirely gratuitous 'Will in his vest' scene that was transparently included for the Mums in the audience. We are reminded that the rangy teenager who played The Fresh Prince long ago transformed into the Hollywood superhunk that starred in Ali.
Disappointingly Big Willie fails to write the theme tune and sing the theme tune. That Patrice Rushen sample is the thing I remember most from the original movie.
Josh Brolin is the younger Agent K. Although he may look more like Pierce Brosnan than he does Tommy Lee Jones, in terms of delivery his Tommy Lee Jones impersonation is spot on.
While his Flight Of The Conchords partner has been off working on The Muppets Jemaine Clement* has snagged the rôle of the movie's campy villain. He's channelling a fair bit of Tim Curry as a time-travelling (mostly) one-armed assassin whom I assume Tommy Lee Jones half-remembers from The Fugitive. For my money Clement doesn't quite hit that perfect balance of chuckles and menace that Vincent d'Onofrio achieved in the first MIB, but your view may vary.
Michael Stuhlbarg, probably best known as the fearsome Arnold Rothstein in Boardwalk Empire, shows some impressive range here as a woolly-hatted pandimensional being whose gnomic insights and MacGuffin dispensing abilities save us all a great deal of tiresome exposition. Whether he's supposed to make me think of Robin Williams as Mork or not I don't know, but he does.
The central action of the film takes pace in 1969. The writers don't have quite as much fun with that as you might expect. In fact MIB3 delivers a somewhat lower gag count than its two predecessors. It's not entirely unfunny, but there's little of that fast-flowing repartee that – for example – Robert Downey Junior benefitted from in The Avengers.
Given that we're back in 1969 for most of the film (and science fans will instantly notice a pretty special month in 1969 at that) I expected more period tourism, more historical cameos and more Austin Powers fish out of water shenanigans altogether.
For example, there's a (in the trailer so hardly spoilery) visit to Andy Warhol's notorious Factory. Midnight Cowboy and Coogan's Bluff brought that sort of exotic loopiness to mainstream movies forty years ago. It's an environment rich with possibilities. Director Barry Sonnenfeld more or less throws it away here.
Perhaps he thought more detail might be lost on the Ben 10 generation that would seem to be this film's key audience. After all, they weren't even born when Men In Black 2 came out.
Oh, and there's a gag in the trailer that's not in the film. I'm keeping a list of these. It starts with The Transporter and it's getting very long.
The 3D was especially impressive in this film. Or maybe my old eyes are just finally getting used to the process. It's some of the most natural-looking 3D I've seen so far.
There's a tricksy loose-end collection plot device at the end that actually creates more loose ends, in terms of the franchise, than it fixes. Still, we're not here for a science lesson, we're here for fun. And for all my nitpicking Men In Black 3 delivers fun.
MIB3 is a perfectly good movie. Kids, I think, will like it especially. Some parents may find there's a shade too much bad language in it for a film seems to be marketed so strongly to a middle-school demographic.
Men In Black 3's central problem won't be the BBFC though. Its central problem is that with a cinema ecosystem dominated by the irresistible forces of Spider-man, The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, The Avengers and The Hunger Games there's not a whole lot of space left for just another Summer blockbuster.
*Fixed spelling, thanks to thekeith82