'Men In Black' Review By slysnide

We are the best kept secret in the universe.
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Directing
  • Visuals
Remember the flying saucer hysteria of the '40s, '50s, and '60s? Remember the ufology which flowed into the realm of government coverups in the '70s and '80s? Remember what it was like to truly stare at the stars on a moonless night and take in the massive expanse of the universe? Remember when that culture faded underground in the '90s and was virtually gone from the public eye in the 2000s? Well, I remember. I remember how mystifying it was to get caught up in that whole craze, to gaze at the stars for hours on moonless summer nights after watching numerous television specials featuring Stanton Friedman. I remember how that whole culture was my childhood escapism. Now it's gone as I've grown up and realize how much of it was just hysteria, but thankfully there's at least three films which address it. Two of which are infamous and address the majestic aspects of it, but only this one addresses the entire culture and retains the nostalgia for it. And for that I'll be eternally grateful.

Now anyone who's seen any one of those dozens of television specials has seen them before. They're the ones who crash the party. The ones who force our heroic alien hunters to turn back at the last moment. The ones who represent some seedy government coverup department. The ones who threaten our heroes with ridicule, wrongful termination, loss of job benefits, and jail time if they utter a word to their superiors. The ones whom despite all that still appear to have some majestic nature to the mysterious way they operate. They are the men in black.

Since the story was centering on their world, it would be impossible not to laugh at the cold calculating manner they've always been portrayed in. Nothing else could live up to that reputation. So rather than becoming comical for seeming ridiculous--as let's face it, there's a reason the 'reenactment' actors never spoke words. It was always the hero narrating what they were saying--this film embraces the humor by turning what we always imagined to be some quiet secret society with a few carcasses and saucers into Grand Central Station for aliens from across the universe. Thus turning the men in black into the intergalactic INS, except they've got guns so there's a bit of galactic border patrol thrown into the mix...and the occasional UN staffers to deal with intergalactic crises.' When complemented with Danny Elfman's scifi score it doesn't come off as a laugh riot, but rather something to behold.

To not shock the audience with this whole new world, the main character is made a rookie whom we the audience can identify with, and I guess a hard knocked cop of the NYPD who comes off more like a rapper (no pun intended) was the most relatable thing they could come up with. Well, anyway, at least it's entertaining to watch how weird this guy is. Oh, and that guy's James Edwards III (Will Smith), soon to be Agent J. He brings his streetwise style to the MIB, but that doesn't make him particularly useful in stressful situations. Rather dangerous in fact. Like yeah there's this dying member of alien royalty, but I'm not going to call upon my experienced partner cause I'm too busy playing doctor with nurse jackie. You get the point. He's funny because he's clumsy, and that clumsiness is a result of his inexperience with the MIB. He tries too hard to jive with it like it's no big deal, even though J's in extreme denial about that, which also adds more humor because he starts to come off like a fanboy who's trying to keep composed. I mean really, if this culture was your childhood escapism, how would you react to finding out it was all true a couple decades later?

The partner is Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), a real veteran and hero of the MIB who recognizes J's unusual talents, and has the unfortunate task of coaching him in the ABCs of being an agent. This comes much to the dismay of his boss Zed (Rip Torn), but his quiet and reserved nature juxtaposed against all this weirdness further suggests how good K really is, and therefore enforces our belief that J must be special, since K thinks he is. So you basically have these two personalities clashing together throughout the film. The rookie is trying too hard to be cool, and the veteran is trying to hard to keep his cool. Apart from that, the generational gap provides lots of humor, as K certainly is a relic of the old MIB from the '50s & '60s when this real culture was alive and flourishing.

The plot itself really isn't that important since the chemistry between these two characters carries the whole film and makes the MIB all the more appealing. Really they could just simply have had the film be a series of random incidents of on the job training and it would be just as successful and original, if not more so for not following a conventional story outline. However, there is a conventional plot line. That doesn't hurt the film at all however since the chemistry these guys share carries the whole film regardless of where its heading. Basically an alien roach steals the skin of redneck farmer Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio) and embarks on a quest to find something which would provide it and its kind with a huge smorgasbord with Earth serving as collateral damage. Oh, and a weird mortician (Linda Fiorentino) continually crosses paths with K & J.

Overall, the music, plot, visual effects, and chemistry between the two leads really provides a more than decent salute to the MIB culture. Granted this was based on Lowell Cunningham's comic book series, you never really think of it that way, as an adaptation I mean. Not just because the comic wasn't super popular, but this whole film is a quasi-throwback to that whole flying saucer culture. I say quasi because this is a comedy which focuses on the MIB rather than other people's encounters with them. And then the worm guys and Frank the Pug complement that notion. But you get the point. Since the whole craze was a result of hysteria, then making the MIB hysterical--as is hysteria--was appropriate. But unless you never did grow up with that whole culture as your escapism then you'll never fully appreciate the majesty and mysticism of the men in black.

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