So this was the film that cemented Will Smith as a bonafide superstar, able to carry his own film and make huge bank at the box office. In the summer of 1997, Smith had already made 1 decent hit (Bad Boys) and one giant box office success (Independence Day). In both of those films though, particularly for Independence Day, Smith was part of an ensemble cast and not expected to be the star of the show. While Men in Black is all about Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’ new partnership, it cannot be denied that much of the heavy lifting of this film is done by Smith, and he excels at everything thrown his way.
Smith play New York police officer, James Edwards. During a chase, Edwards is able to run down a very fast alien and disarm him, which impresses the people at Men in Black, particularly Agent K (Jones). K nominates Edwards to be their newest recruit and takes him under his wing. Now known as Agent J, Edwards joins the Men in Black, a covert government agency who monitor and police extra-terrestrial life on earth. J quickly learns this job is not like any other and the skills that made him a great cop are not very useful while hunting down aliens. K and J’s life gets tricky when a bug named Edgar (Vincent D’Onofrio) lands on earth hoping to find an artifact known as ‘the galaxy’. In order to prevent the bug from getting it, an alien race known as the Arquillians threaten to destroy the earth rather than let the bug get it. J and K must find the galaxy before Edgar can find it and earth gets destroyed.
This film is a lot of fun. Smith and Jones don’t seem like the perfect match, but they have awesome chemistry. Smith’s wise cracking persona meshes so well with Jones grumpy exterior. The two work so well together. It is this partnership that makes the film work so well. All of the other coolness that is the Men in Black organisation would not work as well if these two didn’t come across as real life partners. This was a huge step forward for Smith, who showed he could carry a film mostly on his own. He would use the success of Independence Day and Men in Black to become one of the biggest stars on the planet. I’m not trying to undersell Jones’ performance here, but this is Smith’s film. He has so much charisma and personality, it is very easy to see why he became the star he is today.
The film still holds up today. It is hard to believe this film is nearly 20 years old, but the effects still look good and not dated like some films from the 90s are. The aliens look cool, thanks to the amazing makeup from Rick Baker. The MIB weapons are awesome too, this all adds up to one of the funner sci-fi comedies in recent memory.
I cannot believe this movie is nearly 20 years old. Men in Black has aged incredibly well, given that it’s a sci-fi comedy starring Will Smith. But MIB did, and still does, have everything going for it. I could probably watch it 20 years from now and still enjoy every minute.
Having not watched this film in at least a decade, I assumed a big mark against it would be the special effects. This was released in 1997 and not every movie made before 2000 is able to age as gracefully as, say, Jurassic Park. However, MIB still looks good. The makeup effects are especially excellent at transforming Vincent D’Onofrio into a walking corpse, but the CGI that turns him into his giant cockroach self is equally impressive. There are also some fun animatronics courtesy of Rick Baker. In fact, the heavy use of practical special effects and makeup are key to MIB’s visual appeal. It relies on CGI only when it absolutely has to, which is usually the best strategy.
Another big plus is the cast. Will Smith was arguably at the height of his career when MIB was released. He was fresh of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and already had box office success with Bad Boys and Independence Day. However, it’s not like he’s completely irrelevant now. Smith may focus more on dramas than comedies, but he’s still incredibly marketable thanks to his genuine talent and charm. If he were a fading star, watching MIB would be a lot less fun. Of course the other half of the team is just as important. Smith needs a straight man to play off, and no one is better at this than Tommy Lee Jones. I’m 100 percent convinced that Jones is Agent K in real life. He’s got to be that old guy yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn, right? Anyway, his curmudgeon act never gets old (see: my upcoming review of Men in Black III).
Men in Black was one of my favorite movies as a teen. I may not remember all the words to Smith’s rap* or the dance moves in the music video, but I still enjoy watching it even now. My only criticism is that I feel very old thinking about this film. Again, how is this 20 years old?
*I remember way more than I thought I did, though.