Men In Black - TV Review

'it's a tour-de-force in the role of wizened old operator, something which Jones has done time and again but also something which I'll never get tired of seeing'

In my head, it is conceivable that Men In Black was the first film I ever went to see at the cinema. In reality, I know that 1997 is far too late for that occurrence to have happened and that the mere notion of it is simply my ego trying to hide the fact that that accolade probably belongs to a rerun showing of Sleeping Beauty or, more disturbingly, The Secret Garden (it was a friend's birthday... OK!?). Still, I was nervous sitting down to watch MIB properly for the first time in a long time: was I about to destroy my (potentially fictional) memories of a childhood classic?

Thankfully the answer to that question is no: MIB holds up very well for a thirteen year old summer blockbuster. For all two of you who are unfamiliar with MIB's simple charm it runs as follows; Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is a member of The Men In Black, a secret government organisation charged with protecting the planet from 'bad' aliens, Earth long-since having discovered extraterrestrial life which now lives on the planet disguised in humanoid form. Charged with hiring a new partner, K settles on mouthy-but-talented James Edwards (Will Smith) and hires him as Agent J, just in time to have him help defend the planet from impending destruction at the hands of some very angry aliens.

In truth, this time around one of the only criticisms I can level at MIB is that it's too short. The 98 minute run time obviously appealed more to a younger me but watching it back now it feels like too much is skipped in the middle section, with J going from novice to expert agent in an extremely short period of time. The big bad bad-guy as well, didn't feel as big or as bad as he did way back when and although he is backed up by the might of a civilization up there on a battle-cruiser in the sky, they are ultimately an inconsequential presence, suggested rather than realised. Perhaps you could also say it borrows a bit too much off Ghostbusters but really, should that ever be counted as a bad thing?

Elsewhere, parts of MIB reveal themselves to be really rather good moments of subtle and not so subtle buddy comedy. J takes the job on the condition that no one calls him 'sport' or 'kid' but then endures winks and nods of 'go get 'em tiger' or 'it's time to give the boy a weapon' throughout. Indeed, I don't think anyone once calls him J after that moment in the movie and the effect is hilarious, especially given that at this point, Will Smith's only notable film was Independence Day and he was probably still most recognisable as TV's The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air.

As such, director Barry Sonnenfeld knows where his strengths lie and Smith is successfully given the charming one liners and physical comedy, even if the stunt shots with the 'noisy cricket' do now look a little bit cheap. Equally, Sonnenfeld knows what to do with Tommy Lee Jones and what little emotional weight the film has is left to him to carry, something which he excels at. Just because this is ostensibly a by-the-numbers blockbuster doesn't mean a good actor stops being a good actor and Jones' deadpan K steals the show on several occasions with wiser-than-thou rhetoric ('put up your arms and all your flippers') or emotionally timed heft ahead of a crucial moment ('keep him on THIS planet'). It's a tour-de-force in the role of wizened old operator, something which Jones has done time and again but also something which I'll never get tired of seeing.

Smith and Jones make MIB work but they've really got a pretty easy job. The generic plot is livened up by some jazzy joke writing which rarely fails to hit the mark and Sonnenfeld knows he isn't remaking Citizen Kane here - this is entertainment and I can confirm that whether you're ten, twenty or fifty years old, this is entertainment.




Look further...

'Solomon's screenplay balances its comedy with the severity of its original premise - the end of the world - and manages quite successfully to keep both narrative threads in check' - NixPix (Nick Zegarac), 3.5/5

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