Before I get to the damn review today, I’d like to take a moment to send my condolences to the family, friends and fans of director Tony Scott. While none of his films have yet to grace this blog, I am certain that several will find their way here. The action genre owes Scott a great debt, and sadly we can’t pay him back. I suppose the best way to pay tribute to this lost director is to enjoy his films, and show them to our friends and family. Rest in peace Tony Scott.
Now…up until this point I haven’t really reviewed a movie that was a staple of my life on this fine blog. Sure, The Expendables, Road House and Black Dynamite have their places in my heart, and I’ve had great times watching them with friends, but none of the movies I’ve reviewed have been in my wheelhouse for more than a few years. Men in Black, however, has been a staple in my life since it came out. I had Burger King kids meals from it, I waited an hour at Blockbuster video to rent the VHS, and watched it twice in two days with my brother, I tuned into the Kids WB cartoon, hell I even saw Men in Black II twice in theaters! But, as I got older, I realized that all of my obsessing as a kid didn’t mean quality was a guarantee. I mean, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was my all time favorite movie, and overhyped toy peddling kids flicks like Space Jam and The Pagemaster were top tier as well! So, as I grew from nerdy kid to an angsty teen to a misguided college student to misguided adult, I’ve realized that the best way to judge my character at any given stage of my life is to revisit it. And with that in mind, I was really excited to revisit this action/sci-fi/comedy classic.
I don’t have too many fond memories of this song aside from it playing at my sixth grade party.
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones star in Men in Black as Detective’s J and K respectively. The premise of the flick is rather simple, K is an intergalactic detective who needs a new parter, J is a rowdy New York cop who accidentally chased down an alien and almost took him out without even knowing he was from another world. J fills the void that K needs filled, all the while acclimating himself with a world full of talking dogs, coffee drinking worms, black suits and a silver cylindrical flash bulb that makes people forget. You don’t even need anything else for this movie to be awesome! Aliens! Suits! Talking dogs! What more could a geek ask for!?
From the get go MIB is great, the introductory scene really sets the tone perfectly, bringing manic action, top notch computer generated characters and quirky humor to the table. We see a van full of illegal immigrants riding down a dark road only to be stopped by local police, who are quickly interrupted by the Men…in black. The doofy locals question the authority of the men (one of whom is Jones) as they interrogate the illegals and select one who laughs when questioned in Spanish. Once removed from the rest of the group, this illegal alien is revealed to be a space alien who famously appears next to Will Smith in the rap video for the track “Men in Black”. As the local sheriff snoops over to see the alien we see crazy guns that essentially coat the area with blue goo. And from there it only gets funnier and crazier.
The plot really thickens as a saucer crashes in the middle of nowhere, one that seems to be carrying an intergalactic bug who is out to capture a ‘galaxy’ of some sort and bring the universe to an untimely end. The bug, who uses the skin of an innocent hillbilly named Edgar (and is played brilliantly by Vincent D’Onofrio) runs around New York trying to find this ‘galaxy’ and has some hilarious hijinx along the way. We see some of the best makeup used in the movie through these sequences, as D’Onofrio genuinely looks like a man who has a giant cockroach bursting through his skin. His awkward limping, choice dialogue and slacked jaw really make Edgar the perfect opposite to the slickly dressed MIB.
Now when I reviewed The Rundown I made the comment that there are two sides to every action/comedy, now with this action/comedy/sci-fi we are dealing with a three sided…coin and this flick is one of the rare ones to get everything right. Comedy-wise MIB is great, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play off each other perfectly. K has seen it all and is just trying to do his job the way he’s been doing it for decades. J, on the other hand, is green as grass to this whole intergalactic alien thing. When we meet pawn shop owner Jeebs (Tony Shalhoub), J thinks he knows him, and as K threatens him with a gun we see a great bit of dialogue between the three men that ends up with a lot of green goo everywhere (goo everywhere is a thing in this movie), a shrunken headed TV detective and a room full of intergalactic guns. You see, J and K are perfect for each other, and the world around them is the best place for their relationship to unfold. What better place to put the classic straight man/comic stereotype to the test? Add Edgar to the mix and MIB leader Zed (Rip Torn) and you have a whole ton of really funny parts. Oh yeah…and the talking dog is brilliant.
Laughs aside, the science fiction aspect of this movie is really good too. I mean, the movie is no Star Wars as far as world exploring is concerned, but it certainly rivals the Hellboy series in terms of creating unique and awesome creatures to simply place in the background. The idea of finding a hidden galaxy and using it to bring the world to an end could be placed in the hands of Han Solo, William Adama, Malcolm Reynolds or any other sci-fi protagonist and it has potential to be great. Throw in the fact that it’s on earth, in the busiest, most culturally diverse city in the world and you have yourself a truly original take on a great plot. I mean…maybe this movie won’t hold up against the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey or District 9, but for a popcorn flick it certainly manages to have a creative sci-fi storyline that’s not about aliens fighting boat fleets.
“They wouldn’t let us in Episode I so we took this gig.”
Now onto the damn veggies. The action. Men in Black packs some pretty awesome fight sequences. They don’t come every two minutes, but they are certainly creative. The introduction of Smith’s J really handles a classic chase scene very well. The way they hint that the man he’s pursuing may be more than just a normal dude is subtle and Smith’s reactions as things get more and more bizarre are great. If you hadn’t seen MIB and turned on that scene without knowing the premise, it might genuinely surprise you. The weapons these guys use are really fun too, who can forget the first time they saw J fire the noisy cricket fire? The final showdown here is pretty amazing too, and that’s where this blog gets the chance to add a new wrinkle to the damn rankings! This is the first flick that I’ve reviewed for this blog that features an action scene dominated by a computer generated character. After Edgar boards one of the ships at the 1964 World’s Fair site, and has it brought down by the MIB in one of the most iconic shots of the whole movie, we see the man-Edgar replaced by a giant computer generated cockroach that is ready to kill. And you know what, it does it. It gets the job done. Even in the primitive 90’s where Jar Jar was the king and Yoda was still a puppet, the giant intergalactic roach holds up and is believable. It swings hard and tosses the MIB around like they’re ragdolls and climbs around…it’s believable and well done. Jones really takes the back seat to Smith in most of the climax too, which adds a nice generation gap mentality that makes the big reveal of the end of the movie so much more potent. He’s definitely a factor in the equation, and one that fills his role perfectly.
Oh yeah…there’s also a half assed love story with the stiff and uninteresting Linda Fiorentino. But this blog ain’t about that lovey dovey crap now is it?!
“Now just look into the light and we’ll forget about you in the following two sequels.”
At the end of the day Men in Black is a classic summer popcorn flick. It’s so multifaceted that a lot of people don’t even really consider it an action movie, but it definitely succeeds at being one. Granted, it’s no Die Hard, but there are some awesome things going on and it’s creativity can’t be denied. See it if you haven’t. It’s an essential view.
What’s next fair readers? Well…let’s get Taken away!
ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Computer Generated Image
(All images and video are copyright Columbia Pictures)