As much as it pains me to include this movie, and so high, I can’t lie. Men in Black is great. While the previous generation grew up with Ghostbusters, I had Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, bug-aliens, laser rifles, and the neuralizer.
The first scene in the movie is perfect, and captures in a memorable way what the entire film is about, and will contain. It’s got the comedy, the character, and a great alien design. We see how aliens hide among humans, and the mythological protocols in place for when they’re outed. Often ends in blue slime and fire.
Science-fiction comedy is rare, but Men in Black and Galaxy Quest were contemporaries, and exemplary of either genre. The key ingredient is minding conventions of film, ensuring there’s a real story, actual characters, and possibly an emotional throughline. It isn’t enough to just throw Will Smith in space and have him be funny.
It’s also not enough just to take this premise and run. Based on a comic book, Men in Black has a fairly iconic sense of style, not just the suits and sunglasses but the crazy, pulp weapons and technology. Behind the scenes for Men in Black III reveals how the production design team created hundreds of background aliens based on 1960s styles — the look is important, and labored.
And that’s all fine, but along with that, we remember poor Edgar’s wife commenting on the “Egger-suit,” the first David Cross cameo, and the noisy cricket gun, once compared to Taki’s pistol in Wicked City. It’s the same joke — but Will Smith is just so charming, he sells it.
On a side, but important, note — Men in Black II is also very good. It might have the lamest excuse for a sequel plot this side of The Lost World, but the jokes are great, and despite being such an excuse, it’s fun to see the two leads switch roles. They’re both good in either one because the premise of Men in Black is such dynamite.