Title: Men in Black
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Writers: Ed Solomon, Based on the Comic created by Lowell Cunningham
Distributed By: Columbia Pictures
Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rip Torn, Tony Shalhoub
Release Date: June 2, 1997
MPAA: Rated PG-13
Welcome to Week One of Movie Monday’s tribute to MEN IN BLACK! With the third installment arriving in theaters at the end of the month, Andrew and I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the franchise so far. So, this week we take a look at the film that started it all! Next week we’ll look at MIIB, or MIB2 or Men In Black 2, however, you like to spell it out. After that is a look at the original comics and anything else non-movie related provided by Andrew Hudson, hereby known as Agent H, before we dive into a review of the newest film.
And for the record, I, Aaron Nicewonger, will be Agent N for the rest of this month.
So, let’s get this party started shall we!?
The story begins with Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and his aging partner hunting down what appear to be illegal aliens. But things take a turn for the weird when the viewer is shown that these two are after an entirely different kind of alien. The E.T. or Close Encounters of a Third Kind sort of alien. Though not all are as friendly as the other-worldly visitors from THOSE films. Nope, there wouldn’t be much of an adventure if everyone was happy-go-lucky, so we get a visit from nasties who have more in common with The Thing variety of alien. After this first encounter with Agent K, the viewer is treated to NYPD Detective Jay (Will Smith) running down a perp who turns out to be – you guessed it – an alien! It’s quickly revealed that this movie is about The Men In Black (MIB), a secret agency without ties to any government, whose goal is to maintain Earth as a “neutral zone” for extraterrestrial aliens, who live amongst us disguised as humans around the globe, but primarily around New York.
From here on out, the movie plays as a typical action-adventure sci-fi flick. What sets it apart from other films of the sci-fi genre, is that this movie treats the whole thing like an action-comedy buddy cop film mixed with a bit of police procedural. We get the absurd antics and crazy alien encounters, all resulting in a good number of laughs, but it’s all played through the eyes of the everyman, Agent J (Will Smith’s character), and the humor stems from TWO things. 1) His confused reaction toward the craziness going on around him, and 2) the fact that everyone else is playing it straight with a “What’s with the new guy” look on their faces. It’s this combination of absurdist humor combined with dead-pan straight-faced characters that creates a pitch-perfect comedy.
One of the best scenes in the film is a moment where Agent K interrogates a dog…you heard me.
The CGI Special Effects are all rather fantastic, with certain creatures looking just cartoony enough not to be terrifying, and other creatures, like the 30 feet tall roach alien at the end, look slimy and menacing enough to make you feel ill. But the real treat comes from the practical visual effects created by Rick Baker, though a lot of his animatronic work (like the film’s villainous insectoid monster) had to be replaced with CGI, due to changes in the film’s ending.
I know it may seem like I’m only praising the film…and, well, that’s because I am. It’s really difficult to think of any real complaints when it comes to this film. And seriously, the film’s success speaks for itself. It grossed almost $590,000,000 on a $90,000,000 budget, was nominated for multiple awards, got a sequel, another sequel, a TV Series, and a bunch of video games.
If one had to think of a complaint, it would be this. If you’re a die-hard fan of the comics, of which there were six issues when the movie was released, you might not like it. The comic is much darker, and features a more paranormal vibe, with Agents hunting down ghosts and demons and monsters, as well as aliens. They also don’t erase witnesses’ memories in the comics; instead they simply murder witnesses, and that’s that. But if you’re willing to look at the movie as a stand-alone entry in the franchise, you’ll be very pleased.
So, in short, if you’ve for some reason never seen this film, for any reason whatsoever, do yourself a HUGE favor and go check it out. And if you have seen the film, and many of you most likely have, treat yourself to another viewing. Go on! Go! Go watch it right now!
As an adaptation of the original source material, I’d probably give this movie a 6 or 7.
BUT as a movie, in and of itself, this action-adventure/buddy cop/police procedural/sci-fi/comedy is a 10 out of 10 for this reviewer!