It might be the nostalgia speaking, but I feel like Men in Black represents a golden and lost era of blockbusters: Standalone, accessible, funny, family-friendly, light, built around star power. Most of all, the runtime: In an era where it feels like very damn popcorn movie is 2.5+ hours, Men in Black’s 97 minutes are a breath of fresh air.
At first, I was worried my lingering fondness for the movie was misplaced: The opening scene might be the weakest in the movie. It drags out a labored illegal aliens = space aliens gag with a few shots of gnarly CGI and a couple annoying characters.
Then Will Smith shows up, and everything is fixed. It’s easy to forget just how much star power he brings. He can do it all here: hotshot action hero but also confused newbie, very funny but also very physical, just a delight.
The rest of the story hangs around a brisk but coherent alien invasion story, anchored equally by Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as buddy cops in one thread; and Vincent D’Onofrio doing some unhinged work as an alien in a human body in the other thread.
The gags and quips are generally quite funny, and all of the important performances are good (Jones’s and Smith’s chemistry is a treat). The CGI is used sparingly and fairly effectively. The action climax is a merciful 12-or-so minutes, not the half-hour punch-fests of Marvel movies. I was craving theater popcorn and a big cup of Mr. Pibb the whole time.
Not to say this is a perfect film by any stretch. It is 100% unambitious popcorn stuff that doesn’t push any artistic boundaries. Some of the stuff around Linda Fiorentino’s character is half-assed misogynistic “ooh, a sexy lady” trash. Of course she gets kidnapped and needs rescue. I also could have done with maybe one less gag about somebody getting covered in bug guts. But none of the caveats are nearly enough to diminish the movie’s charm.
If half this review reads as a complaint about modern blockbusters, so be it, that’s where my head was. Because this was some high-powered good-old-days bait for me.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100
Very Good (6/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.