If you haven’t revisited Men in Black since 1997, you’ve forgotten just how good it is. Consistently funny and surprising, with two great leads at the top of their game and a number of memorable moments bolstered by a great score, top-notch special effects and creative art direction, it’s a 90’s blockbuster with lasting power.
Men in Black is a secret government organization who oversees extra-terrestrial refugees living among us. When New York Police officer James Darrell Edwards III (Will Smith) encounters an alien and manages to keep up with it, he impresses Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Taking him under his wing, K helps the rookie navigate the strange world of the MiB while a bug-loving, skin-stealing invader (Vincent D’Onofrio) conspires to end the world.
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play off each other so well, this film will make you itch for a sequel (which we got in 2002 and disappoints on so many levels it’s nearly traumatic, but we’ll get to that one in a bit). Smith is funny because he’s us, tossed in this world full of wonderfully disgusting and slimy creatures, each of which is more outrageous than the last. His cadence and approach to the wild situations immediately endear you to him. He’s great and made even better when bouncing off the grizzled, humorless mentor that is Jones. Unshaken by everything and anything he sees no matter how outrageous, he’s hilarious because he’s so deadpan. They’ve been given great material by writer Ed Solomon - basing the story loosely based on the Marvel Comic by Lowell Cunningham. At numerous points, the script is perfectly self-aware and will often subvert your expectations. The numerous subtle jokes gives the film great re-watch value.
I love the villain, this disgusting creature who’s stolen the skin of a backwater redneck and clumsily walks around trying to be innocuous. Vincent D’Onofrio is so gross and so funny, awkwardly drooling all of his lines (or maybe he’s trying to hold back vomit?) at the sight of the humans surrounding him. When we finally see his true form, it’s a CGI effect from the ’90s but considering how poorly some other films have aged (looking at you, Spawn), this one’s outstanding. Visually, there’s plenty to like in this film by Barry Sonnenfeld. Most of the aliens are done via practical effects and it makes the world of a difference.
People take this movie for granted. They don’t fully appreciate just how memorable an action comedy it is. Once you’ve seen Men in Black, so much of it sticks with you. You’ll never think of “Noisy Cricket” the same way again. Remember James’ initiation into the agency? How about the first time we meet Frank? I’m chuckling just thinking about them. It’s a blockbuster that makes it look easy to be good. (On Blu-ray, June 14, 2019)