Oct 19, 2012

[Movies] Men in Black (1997)

I'm not exactly a Will Smtih fan, but I can respect what he has accomplished for himself. From his weird beginnings on shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to his rather extensive movie career as of the present, he has really come a long way. He has managed to evolve beyond just doing comedies or action movies and has done well as a more, well, "serious" actor.

But that doesn't meant that we can't look back at his body of work and enjoy some of the quirkier stops along the road. He had to dabble with a lot of the more comedic roles before he could transition to the serious stuff after all. And thus we get a lot of movies where he shoots his mouth off a lot while being all cocky and such.

Men in Black is the unique intersection between my interests in science fiction, alien conspiracies and comedy. And while he was also involved in the alien invasion disaster movie Independence Day, his role didn't feel quite as central as in this one. Naturally he's a more important character this time around and he does more than just act like a hotshot pilot.

Plus we enjoy any excuse to see aliens living among us.


Synopsis: Men in Black is a 1997 science fiction action comedy movie based on Lowell Cunningham's comic book series. The movie was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld based on a screenplay by Ed Solomon.

The movie begins by introducing us to Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), a member of a secret government agency known as the Men in Black. Their mission is to keep Earth somehow "neutral" with respect to the various aliens who visit or even migrate to the planet like some sort of interstellar immigration service. His current partner, Agent D (Richard Hamilton) decides that he has had enough of this double life and decides to retire, leaving K without a partner. Agent Zed (Rip Torn), current head of MIB, suggests to K that he find a new partner entirely - a new recruit from outside the agency.

In New York, we then meet James Edwards III (Will Smith), a relatively green police officer engaged in a foot chase with a suspect. He's the only one who is able to keep up with their rather agile suspect - but eventually even he can't match the superhuman leaps the suspect manages. Then he sees the man blink twice using perpendicular sets of eyelids. When James explains this to his superior, his story is largely ignored. But eventually Agent K visits the precinct and makes him a very interesting offer.

Given the timing of this movie, it's nice to note how much the makers enjoyed having access to a mix of both physical effects and CGI to make the movie possible. And this was best demonstrated when K brings James to MIB headquarters for the very first time and he is introduced to all the various aliens being processed at the time. And the movie goes on to feature a number of different and wildly exotic aliens of all different types, which is naturally to be expected from the likes of Rick Baker.

The on-screen chemistry between Jones and Smith really defines the tone of the movie and makes things most interesting indeed. Jones is the ultimate straight man from a comedy routine perspective and thus his rather stoic and unflappable nature automatically makes for good comedy. Thus no matter how over the top Will Smith gets, Jones provides a nice sense of balance. And his unique drawl is surprisingly effective in terms of delivering lines with unintended comedic implications.

The movie's plot features an interesting series of riddles as part of the central mystery and it does help the movie remain more than just idle entertainment. And while as the audience we get to see more of the story than the characters even seeing what the "bad guy" is doing isn't quite enough to automatically reveal what the whole story is about. And when things come together, it still makes for a pleasant enough surprise even if it wasn't all that unexpected. Good call there in terms of the writing indeed.

The movie does have a lot of great action whether involving strange alien abilities or more exotic and advanced technologies. Thus we get a lot of fun chase sequences, pretty cool-looking weapons or at the very least devices with rather surprising effects. And they all come together to create a very interesting mix of things that maintains a pretty good balance of the fun, the action and a little science fiction speak to boot.

Men in Black is one of those unique cross-genre comedy movies that manage to create appeal with a wider audience. At the end of the day the big secret is that they never lose sight of making the movie fun. And that is certainly what it accomplishes. So the movie rates 4 disgusting roach analogies out of a possible 5.


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