In the year 1990, now defunct comic book publisher, Malibu Comics” published a short lived series called, “The Men In Black.” The comic book series is based on conspiracy theories of The Men In Black (MIB for short) are the only people who know about alien activity. The MIB remain anonymous to human society & alien life preventing extraterrestrials from coming across human contact. In 1994, Marvel Comics bought Malibu Comics due to the latter publisher not making enough revenue.
Sony bought the film rights to produce a Men In Black film. Before Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family, Addams Family Values, Get Shorty) was hired to direct, notable filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, John Landis & Steven Spielberg were suitable candidates to direct. All three of them declined the offer, Quentin was busy working on “Jackie Brown,” John Landis believed that Men In Black was just a a rehash of “The Blues Brothers” and was busy making “Blues Brothers 2000,” a decision he’ll never live it down. Last but not least, Steven decided to work as an executive producer for Men In Black, because he had a lot of projects on his plate, most notably “Jurassic Park: The Lost World.”
After Clint Eastwood declined to work on the film, Tommy Lee Jones signed on to play Agent Kay. Fresh from his successful transition to television funny man to motion picture A-List action star, Will Smith (one of my favorite actors) signed on to play Agent Jay.
Men In Black was released in 1997. (same year The Fifth Element came out) It received positive reviews from critics and movie goers alike. In addition to positive reception, it also made a lot of money at the box office. Men In Black spawned a cartoon, (which is non-canon) two sequels & an upcoming spin-off titled, “Men In Black: International.” Men In Black won an Oscar for “Best Makeup.” Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert both gave it a two thumbs up.
Before Men In Black: International comes out in June 14 & Will Smith’s upcoming movies including an Aladdin remake as Genie, an animated film called, “Spies In Disguise” & reuniting with Martin Lawrence in “Bad Boys For Life,” I want to share my thoughts on what’s good or bad about the first Men In Black movie.
Today’s review doesn’t contain any potential SPOILERS. If you have never ever ever seen this movie, feel free to read my non-spoiler article.
Smart & Dumb Elements
Smart: Will Smith & Tommy Lee Jones both did an excellent job for their respective performances as Agents Jay & Kay.
Fun Fact: Prior to Will winning the role as Jay, famous faces including Chris O’Donnell & David Schwimmer were secreted to play the lead role. Chris was too busy filming that god awful “Batman & Robin” movie & David had scheduling conflicts as he was filming episodes of “Friends.” By the way, Bruce Campbell almost played Edgar The Bug before Vincent D’Onofrio played the bad guy.
Other Cast Members such as Vincent D’Onofrio, Linda Fiorentino, Tony Shalhoub & Rip Torn all did a great job for their respective performances. Vincent’s performance as Edgar The Bug deserves Bonus Points for being a scene stealer.
Barry Sonnenfeld did an amazing job directing the movie.
Steven Spielberg served as an executive producer. He personally flew his helicopter with Will Smith to his home to discuss the role of Agent Jay.
Chemistry between Jay & Kay felt organic. If you’ve seen Men In Black III, the context behind their partnership makes perfect sense.
Humor has some clever funny moments. Particularly Will’s snarky lines.
Ed Solomon (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Charlie’s Angels) wrote the screenplay.
According to Tommy Lee, (not the Mötley Crüe drummer) he disliked the script so he improvised his dialogue. Perhaps he wanted to prevent audience from being miserably bored. Mr. Sonnenfeld decided to let Will & most of the cast to improvise their lines.
Character Development involving Jay. He goes from a no nonsense snarky cop to a professional MIB agent protecting Earth.
Opening Credits foreshadows what’s yet to come in epic proportions.
High Concept/ What If Scenario for the film is basically described as: “What If tabloid newspapers were true from the perspective of an agent from Men In Black?”
To prepare for the role as Edgar The Bug, Vincent watched big documentaries. He put on knee braces & taped his ankles, because some insects don’t bend their legs. Method Acting at its finest.
Oscar winning makeup artist, Rick Baker (An American Werewolf In London, The Nutty Professor, Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video) applied prosthetic makeup on the extras and Vincent D’Onofrio’s appearance to resemble a walking corpse.
Special Effects still hold up for a film released in 1997.
Danny Elfman orchestrated music for the movie. He later worked on the second & third installments.
Cinematography didn’t contain no technical flaws.
The Neuralizer is used to erase a person’s collective memory based on alien activity. I’m gonna give this pro an Extra Point for inspiring J.K. Rowling to come up with a spell to erase people’s memories and coming up with her own MIB called, “The Ministry Of Magic.” Without Men In Black, Harry Potter would’ve never existed in the first place!
The MIB headquarters was an actual set. No green screen was used to bring it to life.
A character makes fun of a recruit calling him Captain America. Tommy Lee (again, not the drummer) went on to co-star in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Vincent also went on to portray Wilson Fisk/Kingpin in Netflix’s Daredevil set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (MCU for short)
Famous people including Sylvester Stallone, Steven Spielberg & George Lucas appear as “register aliens” being monitored. If you can spot George Lucas on the very right, he’s seen writing on pen and paper constructing a script for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Zed quotes Mary Jane Watson’s catchphrase, “Go get em’ Tiger.” Sony later produced Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man film around the same time Men In Black II was out in 2002.
In one scene, an alien wall crawls like Spider-Man. Remember what I said about Sony’s big hit from 2002?
A squid resembles Jedi Master, Kit Fisto from The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. I bet Steven Spielberg must’ve given George some ideas to come up with character designs for The Jedi Council.
An alien named Frank is disguised as a pug. Pugs are my favorite type of dog breed.
Comedian, David Cross makes a cameo appearance as a morgue employee. He also made a brief appearance in Men In Black II.
Will Smith provided the titular theme song. It’s heard during The End Credits. As you all know, a music video was also made to promote the film with Will literally dancing with an alien.
Dumb: The World Trade Center can been seen in a few shots. Let’s be honest, this movie was made back in 1997 prior to that tragic event. May the victims of 9/11 Rest In Peace. I’ll let this con slide because this film is set during The 90’s. A timeline establishes which entry takes place.
The Final Verdict: A, FOR APEX!
In my opinion, Men In Black stills hold up to this day. Every positive thing I’ve listed, indicates one of my childhood movies remains as one of the best sci-fi comedies of all time. If you’re excited to see Will Smith’s upcoming films & Men In Black: International, I strongly recommend the first installment.
I can’t wait to see Will’s upcoming projects & Men In Black: International. I hope they won’t disappointment me.