Men in Black Review
Made in 1997 but MiB always seemed like it was hankering back to the fantasy days of the early eighties, you could say it fell into the mould of Ghostbusters, Gremlins or the Back to the Future trilogy but then why shouldn't it with producer Steven Speilberg at the helm ?
The director, Barry Sonnenfeld himself was no stranger to comedy having previously made the valiant attempt to bring the gothic Addams Family and the excellent Get Shorty to the big screen. Stars were the distinguished Tommy Lee Jones and the fresh prince himself Will Smith. Everyone knew that Smith would be an excellent foil but what about Jones; his earlier attempt at comic adventure with Batman Forever was a let down of epic proportions; not just the film but his character and the way he portrayed Harvey Dent on our screens.
Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) works for a secret self funding organisation whose remit is to protect Earth from the scum of the universe; the organisation in question is MiB, Men In Black. After tracking down and reluctantly disposing of a real illegal alien his partner quits and K finds he has to recruit another. Enter one James Edwards (Will Smith) a tough, intelligent NY cop. K finds him to be a perfect match and after a short series of trials and brief exposure to the fact that aliens really do exist Edwards decides to enrol; from that point on he has no history, he is wiped from all records and he loses his name, now only to be known as J. There's no probationary period, no training school to attend, K & J have to track down a recent arrival - one alien bug, whose sole intent is to capture something only known as The Galaxy.
Men In Black started out as a short series of comics in the early 1990s, short lived but well loved they extrapolated the current themes in the comic book world by taking a rather dark and humourous tone to the story lines they delivered and although the MiB agency had a wider remit than the film (which really only deals with UFOs and alien/earth stability) the progression from comic page to celluloid was a competent and enjoyable one.
Smith was fresh from his alien encounters on ID-4 so he was familiar with slimy bug eyed monsters , as well as a wry quip or two. Jones was an odd choice as I feel his performance on the earlier mentioned Batman Forever was a struggle at the best of times. Sonnenfeld though must have been able to see though all of this though because together Smith and Jones makes a compelling pair, with Jones really stealing the show. As Sonnenfeld rightly points out in one of his commentaries if you're going to have a comedy duo on screen then one has to play the foil and one the straight man; with this in mind Jones was a perfect choice and he excels at this performance, perhaps humour being something that he should be looking into further. He's straight as a die, he's seen it all and he's seen things that he doesn't want to remember but the humour contained in his laconic lines are second to none. Without even attempting to be funny Jones steals this show head and shoulders over the younger more inexperienced Smith/J combination. That's not to say Smith is poor here; his 'home boy' vocals could have been toned down a little I feel thinking that it was all too much enforced during certain scenes but apart from that it's one of his better early roles. Against Jones he does come across as the virgin rookie all too eager to learn and all too fast to jump in where angels fear to tread.
Rick Baker was brought in as the man to spearhead and co-ordinate the alien creatures, and if you're going to turn to anyone in the trade then someone who has numerous awards, nominations but more importantly sheer talent is not a bad choice at all. Baker needs no introduction, his career is legendary working on such features as Star Wars, An American Werewolf in London, Greystoke and The Frighteners and all of his creations have gained widespread approval and acceptance from both critics and audiences alike. His character designs and make-up effects really showed the pinnacle of his career in 1997, perhaps now only being eclipsed by his work on Hellboy or the poor remake of Planet of the Apes. His creations are part puppet, part men in suits and part enhanced CGI courtesy of the team over at ILM. All of them fit in seamlessly on screen and like all of Bakers creations have depth and actual character, these are not simple cardboard cut outs just to pad a scene out they are integral to the storyline and have to appear on screen as if they are part of the action; they all do. To re-coin an old phrase.. “Is it live or is it Memorex?” - well the creatures, costumes and effects in this film are simply superb you'll never be thinking that his creations are bolted on as an after thought or that they are stumbling from one scene to another, they are simply on screen accepted and perfectly presented.
All of this wouldn't work though if it wasn't for the storyline itself; after all the bread and butter of any film has to be this core element; again MiB leaves no one wanting. It's well paced jumping from the integration of Smith into the MiB organisation and the arrival on Earth of a new all destructive bug alien in sheep's clothing. The characters of K & J are shown to have history and are shown to have valid reasons for the actions that they pursue. K's history is expanded upon throughout the film and this just adds weight to his character, the fact that Jones plays this part brilliantly with saddened emotion contained within his face and eyes is just a bonus. The action scenes are neither over excessive nor are they light on the ground, it's paced well enough and smartly enough to give the audience that adrenalin boost at just the right time; the other times we are exploring more of this new world we live in or trying to work out what is this “Galaxy” that the bug alien is desperate to get his hands on.
What ultimately we have is a number of elements all playing at the top of their game to bring an enjoyable, action fun movie to our screens. It's just over ten years since MiB graced our screens and really it still feels fresh to this day. The jokes haven't aged, and even though you know what's coming around the corner in terms of excitement of laughs it's doesn't detract from the enjoyment still to be gained from watching this movie. For any film that's a pretty good accolade but for a comedy it's high praise indeed. I enjoyed MiB way back then, and I really enjoy it still to this day; it works and it works so well. All in all it gets top billing from me, grab it before it rushes off those shelves.