- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
hen “Men in Black” opened on July 6th, 1997, Will Smith was already riding high on the success of another sci-fi blockbuster, “Independence Day.” It didn’t take a genius to figure out that his next film was guaranteed to be a hit, regardless of whether or not it was actually any good, but the fact that it was good only helped to make “Men in Black” one of the year’s biggest movies. What many people fail to remember is that while the film is lots of fun, it isn’t half the summer tentpole movie that we’ve come to expect from studios nowadays. Both "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Spider-Man" offer richer, more rewarding moviegoing experiences, but what "Men in Black" lacks in depth, it makes up for with an infectious childlike enthusiasm for its zany premise.
Based on the obscure Marvel comic book of the same name, the film stars Tommy Lee Jones as Agent Kay, a member of a secret government division that monitors extraterrestrials hiding out on Earth. But when his partner calls it quits following a procedural slip-up, Kay finds his replacement in former NYPD cop James Edwards (Smith), and not a moment too soon. A giant cockroach from space (Vincent D'Onofrio) has arrived on Earth looking for a mysterious power source that could fuel an entire war, and only the Men in Black have the technology capable of stopping the vulgar alien bug from achieving his plans for intergalactic domination.
Made back in the day when Smith accompanied every movie role with a theme song on the soundtrack, “Men in Black” isn’t exactly the actor’s finest hour, but it did serve as a major stepping stone to bigger and better things. Jones, meanwhile, was just in the midst of a career reinvention after critical failures like “Volcano” and “Batman Forever,” and though “Men in Black” was far from the actor's eventual destination, it did make him look cool again. That is, if Tommy Lee Jones was ever cool to begin with. That’s saying quite a bit when you consider that neither actor is particularly memorable in their respective roles, but one actor that does stand out is Vincent D’Onofrio, who is clearly having a blast hamming it up as the film's eccentric villain.
It’s been nearly ten years since I last saw “Men in Black,” and though my opinion of the film has changed in that time, it remains a positive one. Once heralded as a sci-fi blockbuster that helped establish Will Smith’s vise-like grip over the critical Fourth of July weekend, “Men in Black” now plays more like a campy (albeit fun) B-movie anchored by some charismatic performances from its two stars. The special effects look pretty dated, and the comedy is more silly than smart, but it’s hard not to enjoy “Men in Black” for what it is: an entertaining slice of guilt-free fun.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
The single-disc release of “Men in Black” will look vaguely familiar to those that owned the special edition DVD from the late 90s, but while all of the extras have been preserved for this new Blu-ray edition, there are only a handful that are actually worth your time. The technical commentary track with director Barry Sonnenfeld and effects master Rick Baker offers excellent insight into the making-of the film, while the production featurette “Metamorphoses of Men in Black” elaborates on specifics like SFX and creature design. The other commentary (with Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones) is tame in comparison, despite the fact that it includes a telestrator option where the director draws on the screen à la “Monday Night Football.”
Also included are four minutes of deleted/extended scenes (if someone could explain to me how a scene without CGI is either of these, I’d be extremely grateful), VFX scene deconstruction, concept art, storyboard comparisons, a scene editing workshop, and much more. Exclusive to the Blu-ray version is a BD Live-enabled trivia game (“Intergalactic Pursuit”), a glorified magic 8 ball (“Ask Frank the Pug”), and an alien subtitle track that was impossible to access. Of course, while the lack of any decent exclusives might turn away some potential buyers, the superb improvements made over both the video and audio make this well worth picking up.