Title: Men in Black
Release Date: July 2, 1997
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Amblin Entertainment | Parkes/MacDonald Productions
Men in Black could’ve easily been “Ghostbusters with aliens” or just a star vehicle for Will Smith, but it turned out to be a whole lot more. The movie draws upon the UFO conspiracy theory of government agents in dark suits who cover up alien encounters and more directly from The Men in Black comic book series based on the lore. I was impressed by the economy of the opening scenes in establishing the role Men in Black in policing refugee extraterrestrials on Earth (with a subtle political message about immigration built into it). The rest of the film builds on the concept as we follow new recruit Agent J (Smith) learns from the grizzled veteran Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones).
The stakes are high, the destruction of earth, but the conflict with the villain, a roach-like creature in a human skin named Edgar (Vincent D’Onofrio) is very down to earth. Linda Fiorentino fills out the cast as Laurel, a doctor in the city morgue who has her memory erased multiple times for discovering aliens on Earth. The film has a lot of great sight gags and humor and Jones and Smith have a great chemistry together. This is also a great New York City film where the Guggenheim Museums becomes the perfect setting for a foot chase and the 1964 World’s Fair New York Pavilion is home to flying saucers in disguise (with a cameo by my late, lamented Shea Stadium).
I never saw the Men in Black sequels, and I don’t know if I want to, but this original film stands the test of time. My kids liked it too. A recent podcast episode from Unspooled discusses Men in Black and the hosts get into the weeds of an interesting conversation of how this movie marked the end of an era for blockbuster films preceding our current comic book/superhero dominated film landscape.