In 1997 director Barry Sonnenfeld, fresh off the success of adapting the classic TV shot The Addams Family, turned his attentions to the world of comic books and a little known title called The Men in Black. Casting Hollywood A-listers Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as the central duo paid dividends as their natural on-screen chemistry helped propel Men in Black to a box office haul of over $500m off a budget of $90m.
Agent K (Jones) is a member of the secret organisation the Men in Black whose mission it is to protect Earth from alien threats that have been disguised as humanity for decades. His partner retires and while searching for a replacement stumbles upon James Edwards III (Smith) who he trains to become the latest recruit. Meanwhile the Men in Black are contacted by an alien space fleet and warned of a member of a ˜Bug’ species that has landed on earth. Disguised as a farmer (Vincent D’Onofrio) he hopes to find something called ˜the galaxy’ to help turn the tide in his species’ conflict. Agents K and J are dispatched to find the alien criminal and prevent Earth being dragged into the middle of the intergalactic war.
The setup to Men in Black is pure ˜B Movie’ fare and unlike a lot of modern science fiction, never takes itself too seriously. The central pairing provide the majority of the laughs, with Jones playing the perfect straight man to Smith’s exuberant, cocky loudmouth. It’s astounding quite how entertaining the two men are together, and much like Morticia and Gomez in The Addams Family the two main characters bounce off each other using their wicked banter to distract from the criminally short running time.
It’s rare with modern films to make a complaint of a film being too short, but with Men in Black a little extra character development and time spent with J and K would have really helped push the film into truly epic territory. However with so many films failing to edit themselves properly, it does provide a welcome change to have a film not outstay its welcome and leave the audience wanting a little more.
Vincent D’Onofrio provides Men in Black with an excellent villain who manages to more than hold his own against the tornado of quick-wit provided by the heroes. His reactions to the death of insects on planet Earth are particularly noteworthy and the franchise has never quite managed to recreate his level of quality when it comes to antagonists. All of these elements combine to create a unique, wonderfully styled and wholly rare thing: A science fiction comedy that is funny and entertaining.