To inject some energy into a franchise that ran out of gas a decade ago, dribbling whatever it had left onto the asphalt of asinine ancillary-reaping mega fare in the woebegone Men in Black 2 (2002), Men in Black 3 — the sequel nobody asked for, wanted or expected — arrives as an unofficial Back to the Future hybrid.

Sadly, Marty and the DeLorean are not featured prominently in this zany third tilt from director Barry Sonnenfeld, nor indeed featured at all. The tantalising vision of Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Martin manically clutching MIB’s phallic memory removal gadget with “great Scott!” glee was presumably too much for audiences to handle, or too obvious a conjoiner, or required too much paperwork and too many Chinese take-away dinners to munch on with the lawyers…

If you haven’t guessed by now, there’s a time travel element to Men in Black 3, a particularly bold gambit given it dramatically reduces the best thing the series had going for it: the chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Jones is replaced for much of the running time by Josh Brolin, who plays a younger version of Jones’ character K — a version who has not been destroyed by one-armed alien Boris The Animal, who shows off a nifty Cronenberg-esque relationship between his body and weaponry. He is played by an unrecognisable Jemaine Clement (from TV’s Flight of the Conchords).

The fate of the world, as these things so often go, hangs in the balance, or more precisely in the professional efficacy of Agent J (Will Smith). In a blur of narrative tomfoolery he travels back in time to the 60s to endeavour to prevent K’s death (and subsequent armageddon). Brolin’s version of the character is more than just spot-on; it’s a beautiful, perfect sunrise of Tommy Lee Jones impersonation.

There are fewer visual inventions this time around; the best is a pair of sleek gyroscopic motorbikes that look like enormous fun to ride. The plot swirls around in fun and frothy circles for much of the running time, but like a dog chasing its tail never quite gets where it wants to go. A flighty finale involving the launch of Apollo 11 — plus one particularly neat time travel plot sleight — round off an enjoyable albeit imminently forgettable film.

Men in Black’s Australian theatrical release date: May 24, 2012.