Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Essentials- "Men In Black" (1997)

The Essentials- #60

Men In Black

I am no Will Smith fan in general. I find him to be arrogant, self-absorbed and self-indulgent. Worse yet, his wife is just like him and his kids are growing up to be just like him. It’s too bad because I used to like and respect him deeply as an actor. That changed quickly as I saw him grow onscreen. I detest the way he needs to turn every movie he stars in as something of his own; I detest the things he said about Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” and why he decided not to be in it. (Although I will say I am supremely happy he was not in it.) As of today, I have pretty much detested everything about the man.

There was a time before Smith gained that arrogance that has stained the rest of his career. There was a time where he was an exciting presence in film. There was a time when he could really light up the screen with vivid energy. Much of that time period took place in the 1990’s, and I have written about it on this blog before. When I was growing up, I was fascinated by aliens and the thought of their existence was on my mind all the time. When I saw “Independence Day” back in 1996, I was captivated by Will Smith’s hero, and I immediately wanted a sequel next month. Sadly, that didn’t happen, even in the next several years I would not see a sequel to the coolest movie I had ever seen. What I did get next summer was enough to feed the hunger I wanted. I saw Will Smith become a hero once again to hunt down an alien menace. This time, it was in the form of “Men In Black.”

“Men In Black” is not your typical alien invasion movie, and at a young age, that is what I liked best about it. It wasn’t a movie that was about an Earth takeover with death rays and giant flying saucers. Everything about other worlds was handled in a discreet way, and that is how clever the film was. I loved the idea of a government agency that doesn’t exist on paper, keeping the world save from extra-terrestrials. I found that idea quite clever. What I also liked about the idea is how the film was approached in a comedic manner. There was a lot of funny material in the film that added to the film’s cleverness. All of these ingredients determined one thing; “Men In Black” was a film unlike any other. Even though it was a film about aliens, its execution was completely original, which I why I continue to revisit it today.

The film’s story is pretty simple. A police officer from New York discovers just how big the universe really is when he stumbles upon an agency dedicated to defending the Earth from aliens, as well as keeping the secret of their existence from the world. The police officer is brought in by Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and is stripped of his identity and becomes an agent of the system, now called Agent J (Will Smith). The story revolves around a alien (Vincent D’Onofrio) who plans to disrupt an alien empire’s peace by stealing a galaxy. The Men In Black plan to stop the alien at all costs.

I love all various aliens we see in the movie. There is a scene in the movie when Agent K brings Agent J deep into the headquarters to be processed, and all the aliens we see in the film are wondrous, goofy and gross all at the same time. I also like the technology featured in the film, I love that it all looks like an uncanny mix of something you’d see in a “Star Wars” film and something you’d see in a 1950’s science fiction film. But also, at the same time, the technology has an original flare that I dig a lot.

The work done by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones is just phenomenal. There is a reason these guys went on to make two more movies in this franchise. Their chemistry is undeniable and they make a believable team. I also liked Vincent D’Orofrio and his work as Edgar, the evil alien, is the highlight of the film. I like Rip Torn who plays the leader of the shadowy agency and he does strong work here. Linda Fiorentino also does great work here, the cast is nearly perfect.

I maybe slightly biased when it comes to alien movies, but there is no doubt that “Men In Black” is as unique as they come.

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