What can I say about the Men in Black films? They’re funny, weird, frequently gross, action-packed, mind-blowing, occasionally touching, and overall the best sci-fi/comedy/buddy movie mash-up I’ve seen. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith make a perfect straight-man/funny-man team, and their differing reactions to all the bizarreness they encounter are priceless.
The first film was a huge success, both critically and commercially. Contributing a lighter tone to the Marvel/Malibu-published comic book on which it was based, the film lets its two leads bounce off each other effortlessly, fueled by a golden script. Their odd-couple chemistry is matched only by the amazing special effects and Oscar-winning make-up from Rick Baker. The first Men in Black is the most difficult to critique because it’s the closest to being downright perfect. The performances are infectiously fun, the villain (Vincent D’Onofrio) is brilliantly wicked and disgusting, the comic one-liners and hilarious situations are now classics (that rocket car scene with Elvis especially), and the whole film is simply inspired, from the way Siobhan Hogan pronounces “Eggar suit” to the straightforward method K uses to retrieve his swallowed gun. It’s also intermittently shocking in its gooey violence, particularly with Tony Shalhoub’s head-shooting scenes. (By the way, minor Lost alert: Fredric Lehne, the INS agent whom Mikey the alien charges at the beginning, played U.S. Marshall Edward Mars on my favorite show.)
The second film, released on the heels of the animated television show’s cancellation, is sorely lacking in several regards. The villainess is an alien-turned-lingerie model, whose gross scenes are more squirm-inducing than intimidating, and K’s supposed happy ending is dissolved by the lazy explanation that his wife left him. Likewise, there is more of a focus on the worm guys and Frank the pug, potentially irritating characters that are better taken in small doses, as the first film did. Beyond that, many of K’s clues to himself seem rather arbitrary, and by the end, when the fate of the world depends on Laura launching away, both J and K can do nothing but stare regretfully at her. All that’s not to say that the second one is without redeeming value. I loved the scenes with Jeff the giant subway worm and Agent M’s cameo, and Rosario Dawson is naively beautiful as Laura, though it’s unclear what her ultimate fate is when she returns to the home planet she’s never visited. Overall, Men in Black II felt like a direct-to-video-quality effort that didn’t need to be made.
Still, without MIIB, we would never have gotten MIB3, which breathed some new life into the franchise, though whether it paved the way for another sequel or served as an agreeable conclusion is still undecided. I’ve made no secret about my love for time travel, and throwing this device into the plot was genius. Though I once thought that no one could fill the shoes of Smith or Jones, Josh Brolin is incredible as a younger version of K and smoothly inhabits the stoic persona Jones wore so well. It’s not quite as funny as the first film, but Jemaine Clement’s Boris the Animal is a worthily nasty MIB villain, and the finale that works in the 1969 moon launch is outstanding, as is the emotional twist absent from the other two films. As with any time travel story, there are details to quibble over, but that’s for another post maybe. (Though I do wonder why they needed to use Apollo 11 to get the ArcNet into space. With all the aliens already on Earth, did the MIB really not have access to a spaceship of some kind? Also, the question of what made K “this way” is never fully answered, but it seems obvious from the second film. He became grumpy and emotionless most likely because Serleena killed the alien monarch he loved, but maybe that’s too obvious.)
Men in Black didn’t need to be a trilogy, but despite the weaknesses of the second, I’m glad it was, if only for the timey-wimey third film. The original movie remains a high point in modern science fiction, and a lesser staple of pop culture.Best line from MIB: (Beatrice, Edgar’s wife, when two FBI agents come calling) “You here to make fun of me too?” (deadpan K) “No, ma’am. We at the FBI do not have a sense of humor we’re aware of. May we come in?” Best line from MIIB: (Laura, after a fight) “Half the time you were on your back!” (J) “That’s how I fight.” Best line from MIB3: (Griffin, played by Michael Stuhlbarg) “A miracle is something that seems impossible but happens anyway.”
Artistry: 7 Characters/Actors: 9 Entertainment: 10 Visual Effects: 10 Originality: 9 Watchability: 10 Other (language, violence, sexual dialogue): -5 TOTAL: 50 out of 60
Next: #124 – Ghost
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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