I was immediately drawn to this film when it came out in 1997; it was like Ghostbusters but with aliens. It sure as hell beat that yearâ€™s extraterrestrial alternative, Contact. Ugh. Men in Black, based on the Malibu comic book series, takes a concept youâ€™d think would be rather simple, an organization that polices alien activity, and really works an intriguing story out of it.
The Men in Black are a top secret non-Government organization which monitors and polices alien activity on planet Earth. Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is a founding member, and after the retirement of his long-time partner, Agent D, is in the market for a replacement. He finds promise in a rough-around-the-edges NYPD detective (Will Smith) and hires him on. Now known as â€œAgent Jâ€, the newbie must learn the ropes of his new life and employmentâ€¦and heâ€™s got to learn them fast. It would appear that an alien â€œbugâ€ (Vincent Dâ€™Onofrio) has come to Earth in search of â€œthe galaxyâ€. With it he can conquer his enemies as well as the planet.
What makes Men in Black so different is that it avoids the whole â€œGovernmentâ€ angle one would expect from a movie about alien cover-ups. The thought of an organization even more top-secret than the Government is refreshing and keeps the scope from being too limited or predictable. As the movie goes on they divulge bits and pieces of the â€œMIBâ€™sâ€ history, such as how they can fund their operations, how they first began policing aliens and how they manage to get away with what they do without anybody noticing. It adds a sense of â€œrealismâ€ to the works, in that if an alien-policing organization *did* exist it could conceivably function in this manner.
Men in Black is also a fun spin on the tired â€œbuddy copâ€ genre. K is the stoic and by-the-books seasoned veteran, while J is the â€œI play by my own rulesâ€ loose cannon stereotype. Yet, they play off one another in a way thatâ€™s genuinely hilarious. The presence of sci-fi material and over-the-top gadgets like the â€œLTDâ€ or the Noisy Cricket injects some fresh ideas into what would normally be a stale formula.
The special effects are both good and bad. The 1997-era CGI isnâ€™t exactly astounding, though at the time, it was considered amazing. Thankfully, they blend the CGI with traditional effects like props and costumes, so things donâ€™t feel quite so fake. Mikey, for instance, works pretty well, transitioning from a guy in a costume to a CGI beast rather smoothly. One thing they pull off which I absolutely love is the manner in which the aliens disguise themselves as humans. Some simply morph their bodies, while others wear a variety of costumes or even the skin of other human beings. Tiny aliens pilot full-sized human â€œmechsâ€ while some go the â€œghettoâ€ route and wrap themselves in a blanket and simply stick a puppet-head out the top. Itâ€™s very clever and funny.
The chief villain, Edgar, is realized rather well. For the bulk of the film, he looks like a walking corpse with skin that doesnâ€™t fit quite right (as is the intent) and Vincent Dâ€™Onofrio pulls it off extremely well. The final battle, where he morphs into the giant â€œbugâ€, is a bit too heavy on the primitive CGI, but makes for some really funny moments and a very solid ending.
Men in Black eventually spawned a totally kickass animated series (which *needs* a DVD release) as well as a mediocre sequel that you should probably avoid. Iâ€™ve never read the original comics, so I canâ€™t tell you how accurate of an adaptation this film is, but on its own merits it is very fun and memorable.