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Men in Black (1997)
Men in Black is a 1997 science fiction comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D'Onofrio, Rip Torn and Tony Shalhoub. The film was based on the Men in Black comic book series by Lowell Cunningham, originally published by Marvel Comics. The film featured the creature effects and makeup of Rick Baker. The film was released on July 2, 1997, by Columbia Pictures and grossed $589,390,539 worldwide against a $90 million budget. An animated series based on the film, titled Men in Black: The Series, ran from 1997 to 2001. A live-action sequel, Men in Black II, was released in 2002. This was followed by Men in Black 3 in 2012. The success of the film inspired Marvel to option other properties for development, later collaborating with Columbia Pictures to produce Spider-Man amongst other projects. In 1997, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is a member of the Men in Black (MIB), a secret agency without ties to any government, whose goal is to maintain Earth as a "neutral zone" for extraterrestrial aliens, whom they disguise as humans around New York City.
The task of monitoring alien life on Earth falls to wise veteran K (Tommy Lee Jones) and the brash rookie J (Will Smith). Of course, there is the obligatory end-of-the-world plot that drives J's and K's MacGuffin chase, following a bug alien that destroys all in its path. Yet, this overtly catastrophic plot plays second fiddle to the alien-inhabited world created by director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Ed Solomon. The range of alien characters -- the chain-smoking, coffee-guzzling insects, talking pug informant, and the Bug wearing an 'Edgar suit' as a disguise -- amaze, as both puppets and classic cinema trickery add to the film's realism (compared to today's over-saturated computer-generated effects).
Though the movie delivers the alien goods, it also has character charisma and a thoughtfulness that many 'summer blockbusters' lack. The chemistry between the straight-laced Jones and sarcastic Smith punctuates the action and pedestrian mind-erasing. And when it comes to the more poignant moments, like J's decision to become a man in black or K's retirement, their natural friendship gives these scenes an honest emotional grounding, the same way their banter evokes smiles and laughs. The rest of the supporting cast is also strong -- Rip Torn as MiB chief Zed adds a comic gruffness, and Vincent D'Onofrio's sugar water craving is humorous, while Linda Fiorentino's creepy mortician doesn't distract. And cameos from the likes of David Cross and Tony Shalhoub keep the comedy flowing.
Amidst the E.T.s and Smith's fish-out-of-water routine, there is a sense of humility in Men in Black. The film takes the time to point out that we are often too busy looking past the stars without taking the time to enjoy their beauty; as we scurry about in our seemingly important, busy lives, we may be nothing more than a galaxy held in an alien game of marbles. It's this acknowledgement of our possible insignificance that gives Men in Black its edge in the overstuffed sci-fi genre; especially since we don't expect much from big budget Hollywood action movies.
The Smith/Jones adventure is brief, clocking in around 90 minutes, but it keeps the film from wearing out its welcome. From the opening tracking shot of an insect flying around the desert, only to meet its gooey demise at the business end of an illegal alien smuggling truck, to the duo bringing down a spaceship from the World's Fair, Men in Black is sci-fi fun without sacrificing the characterization and depth for the sake of thrills.
Not your typical creamsicle.
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