DIRECTED BY: Barry Sonnenfeld
WRITTEN BY: Ed Solomon (screenplay); Based on the comic by Lowell Cunningham
PEW PEW: Not a terrible amount of things actually happen in the film, but it is well-paced and quite interesting.
CAT FOOD: I suppose the fact that we’d need a secret organisation to keep us from losing our shit when we find out we’re not alone in the universe is cat food enough for a light picture.
When last I saw this movie, it was in a drive-in paired with The Fifth Element back in 1997. I do remember liking it quite a bit, a lot of that owing to a tremendous amount of quirky aliens and a childhood rife with the awesomeness of Will Smith. Upon revisiting the picture, I’m afraid my opinion on it might be worse, but not in any way that destroys the perfectly decent picture for me. I will explain, but first, the plot.
The Men In Black are a secret organisation operating off the grid and separate from any government institution. Their duty is to keep the planet Earth safe from alien invaders, and to help keep benevolent but wayward creatures safe and out of the public eye.
After an encounter with a fleeing alien in the desert goes more than a little wrong, Agent K retires his partner and looks to a draft a young and brazen NYPD officer into service at his side. As that officer, James, steps up to become Agent J, a menacing insectine alien crashes to Earth with his own plan to steal a precious jewel and destroy the planet in the process.
What disappoints me about the picture is how little actually happens in the film. We spend so much time drafting J and setting up the ‘Bug and Jewel’ story that, by the time it comes to actually executing the plot, it’s already pretty much over. They could have learned a little from the Roland Emmerich School of Blasting Through Character Development to Get the the Action. Usually the setup happens in the first bit of the movie, but here it drags on for the vast majority of the picture and then the actual crisis doesn’t really seem to be that much of a challenge.
In this way, Men In Black was pretty much always supposed to be a setup for a sequel. Two more did eventually follow (I’ll have to wait and see if that is a good or bad thing!), so it makes sense that way, but had this film been forced to stand alone, I’m afraid it wouldn’t hold up so well, in my opinion, although I suppose it did for five years and I never thought poorly of it.
There is, however, a lot to love about this picture. What I love most are the plethora of strange alien species that are seen masquerading as humans, and the unlikely chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.
Will Smith is someone you can have in a movie and it usually just works for me. I realise not everyone likes the man’s shtick, but it’s rare that it doesn’t save even a terrible movie for me. I recently wrote about I, Robot and how it left the man hanging. Contrary to that film, Men In Black is the kind of movie that embraces his particular brand of comedy. Here we have a rigid and very professional organisation, and the Fresh Prince shows up to inject a little cool into it.
The flip side to Smith is Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K. The man’s no-nonsense professionalism is the perfect counter to the over-the-top cool of Smith’s Agent J. He’s the old guy who quietly but absolutely refuses to be schooled in the areas of cool, allowing his confidence and expertise to speak for him. As the perfect straight man, Jones sets the jokes up and gets more than a few dry ones in himself. It will be interesting to see what happens with him as the series pans out (okay, I’m a little behind here!).
The effects are great for the time and there are tons of really cool and bizarre aliens, each with their own peculiar quirks. Oh, and I nearly peed myself watching Tommy Lee Jones literally shake a pug down on a busy city street.
So yeah, in closing, Men In Black is the antithesis of boring — it’s quite funny and insanely interesting — but it is definitely dependent upon possible sequels to flesh out its concept. People of all ages should enjoy this one, and I can’t wait to get my ass up to date with its sequels.