Men In Black 3, Barry Sonnenfeld, 106 mins (PG) What to Expect When You're Expecting, Kirk Jones, 110 mins (12A)

What we want from Smith and Jones is ray guns, bug-eyed monsters – and a lot more fun

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The Independent Culture

It's been 10 years since Men in Black II, which means that it's roughly nine years and 51 weeks since anyone gave it a moment's thought. How, then, to get the franchise up and running again? Judging by Batman Begins, Casino Royale and X-Men: First Class, the best plan would be to make a prequel about its hero's early career; hence Men in Black 3 lets us see what Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) was like as a cheerful young man, and how he came to be such a grumpy old one.

I can't say that I've ever been desperate for that information, but at least the film hits on a crafty way of setting up its history lesson. The idea is that one of K's extra-terrestrial adversaries, Boris (Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement), breaks out of a lunar prison, then travels back to 1969 to stop his younger self being arrested by K's younger self. When Will Smith's Agent J gets wind of this nefarious scheme, he follows Boris back in time and meets the 29-year-old Agent K, now played by Josh Brolin. It's probably best not to do any sums at this point. Brolin is actually in his forties, not his twenties. And another character is played by Alice Eve in 1969 and Emma Thompson in the present day, which doesn't add up at all. Wasn't Helen Mirren available?

Still, you can't quibble with the casting too much, because Brolin's impersonation of Jones is uncanny. And, in general, the time-travelling is handled with aplomb. The film intertwines J & K's lives in poignant ways; it sticks in some jokes about Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol, and it has numerous chin-stroking discussions about fate and alternate realities. In short, if you're in the market for a better-than-average episode of Doctor Who, then Men in Black 3 delivers. But, really, aren't all the knotty storylines and personal revelations missing the point? What we want from a Men in Black film is Smith being sarcastic and Jones being deadpan as they fire their ray guns at bug-eyed monsters. What we get instead is an intricately plotted meditation on destiny from which Jones is largely absent. It may be a big improvement on Men in Black II, but it could have been a lot more fun.

What to Expect When You're Expecting gets its title from Heidi Murkoff's best-selling self-help guide to pregnancy, but don't come to the film hoping for any practical tips. Unless, that is, you host a TV exercise programme, like Cameron Diaz; or you're adopting a baby from Ethiopia, like Jennifer Lopez; or you're publishing a picture book about breast-feeding, like Elizabeth Banks; or you need to resolve your Oedipal issues with your famous father, Dennis Quaid, by having a golf-cart race that ends in a swimming pool. Yes, What to Expect ... may be set in Atlanta, but its take on pregnancy is Hollywood through and through, with all the blandness and excess that that implies.

Indeed, the film has less to do with Murkoff's textbook than it has to do with Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, and Love Actually before them. That is, it's a sub-Altman ensemble comedy which finds various contrived ways to link several wispy stories together. Chris Rock and Elizabeth Banks inject some actual humour into proceedings here and there, but not even Banks can be funny on the fourth occasion that she has to admit to wetting herself. And the overall message that having a child can be quite difficult is hardly the revolutionary insight the screenwriters seem to think it is.

If you're shocked to learn that the film climaxes with all the female characters giving birth at the same time in the same hospital, then maybe the rest of it will hold some surprises for you. Otherwise, What to Expect ... is exactly what you're expecting.

Critic's Choice

Cult director Wes Anderson pitches his camp in the realm of pre-teen romance in his blithe, goofy but wonderfully literate Moonrise Kingdom, with Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray among those scouting for laughs. Elsewhere, it's chop-socky a-go-go in The Raid, the funkiest and most frenzied Indonesian action picture ever made by a Welsh director.

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