In its best moments, the hooks alone work. The film efficiently re-contextualizes the franchise’s (admittedly nonsensical) lore as it now exists within a larger universe, all the while re-introducing the audience to its eclectic roster of new and returning characters – both humans and humanoids.
The obligatory intertextual callbacks to previous entries are thankfully kept at a respectable level – sufficiently quenching the thirst for Men in Black inside jokes among devoted fans, while also engaging newcomers without being excessively cutesy.
The film requires almost no prior knowledge of its expansive universe; even the original Men in Black, agents K (Tommy Lee Jones) and J (Will Smith) are only namedropped in a throwaway scene that has little to no significance to the story. This sort of narrative independence is almost striking by the current standards of Hollywood’s capitalization of nostalgia peddled by postscript sequels and unnecessary prequels, including the likes of Disney’s Star Wars and the Fantastic Beasts films.
In its worst moments, however, the film plays like a series of loosely-interconnected narrative beats and self-contained action vignettes that keeps the gears moving until the story’s clunky third act.