The Men in Black are an agency specializing in extra-terrestrial matters and K (Tommy Lee Jones) is just one of their agents. After an encounter with an alien, a man who soon goes by the name J (Will Smith) is recruited to help stop an oncoming war.
I’ve had the hardest time figuring out exactly what it is I liked about this movie. I don’t think it’s anything spectacular but as far as being an entertaining movie, it serves its purpose. I guess what works most about it is Will Smith, who spends most of the movie as the naïve, comedic counterpart to Tommy Lee Jones’ serious and well versed character. They’re both great but Smith is particularly entertaining, both while on his own and while working off Jones. When J is going through the MIB try-outs, there’s a very human side to the character developed that both counters and compliments the more authoritative and professional side of the character that we see earlier on. Meanwhile, we also get to see K’s backstory and the life he left behind. It’s a nice way to humanize him as well, especially when the character seems so distant and inhuman throughout the rest of the film.
The world the movie sets up is vast but the story stays confined, introducing us to several side characters who each serve as comedic plot points along the road as J and K try to figure out what’s going on. What is going on is that a giant cockroach alien has come to earth and is hiding in the skin of a man named Edgar (Vincent D’onofrio). He doesn’t really have a thought-out plan, but he’s very angry at the human race for the way it treats insects, considering humans are to insects what plenty of other alien lifeforms are to humans. He’s an interesting villain but he’s not a very memorable one. The plot involving him and his mission is interchangeable when the real focus of the film is on the dynamic between J and K, so it can get rather slow when the movie decides to focus more on the story.
I think what I like most about the movie is that most of the special effects are practical effects. A good majority of the aliens are puppets, which helps a lot in establishing this as a world inhabited by these creatures. There is a fair amount of CG, mostly at the end of the film, but for the most part it’s puppets and costumes. Rick Baker did the makeup for the film and it really shows, with people like Tony Shalhoub and Vincent D’Onofrio being virtually unrecognizable as aliens. Mixed with the puppets, the style of the movie is able to create its mythos elegantly without having to go over the top.
Men in Black is an enjoyable movie that had enough marketing to make it a bigger deal than it probably needed to be. In fact, I’d argue the marketing is more memorable than the film itself, but it’s something I enjoy watching every now and then.