25 years ago, Men in Black made its debut and once again crowned Will Smith the king of the Independence Day box office. Kicking off a sci-fi franchise that would see two sequels and a spin-off come down the road, director Barry Sonnenfeld’s comic adaptation is still as offbeat and heartfelt today as it was back on first glance.
After revisiting the movie in honor of the occasion, I myself found that I still had a bunch of fresh thoughts connected to a movie I still know pretty well. In-between quoting memorable moments of dialogue, 11 different thoughts popped into my head, and I’d like to share them with you on this very important anniversary. Here’s what I was thinking while rewatching Men in Black.
Men In Black Is A Better Sci-Fi Movie Than Independence Day
Take a beat to read that note and breathe, because I have an explanation for this. While Independence Day is a great action/disaster movie with sci-fi elements, that summary shows you where the movie’s bread and butter are. Meanwhile, when it comes to Men in Black, it’s the other way around.
Showing us a world where aliens do exist, and a complete bureaucracy has been created to police them, Men in Black has more fun with that side of the coin. The action beats are still fantastic, but even when Agent J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are confronting the scum of the universe, there’s a wide-eyed sci-fi lens looking at it all.
Will Smith Makes The Perfect Outsider Turned Expert
Comparing Will Smith’s characters between Men in Black and Independence Day is another fun contrast between the two films. Captain Stephen Hiller is a true blue cocky hero, with moments of disbelief that Will Smith was perfect for, even though he almost missed out on that ID4 role. The same cannot be said for James Darrell Edwards III, who we come to know as Agent J.
Occupying the right border between amazement and quick learner, Men in Black gave Will Smith a challenge in being able to handle himself confidently while, as Agent K puts it, knowing “precisely dick” about the world he’s entering. J is a smart ass, but he’s also very calculating, and has his own book he’s reading from when operating an investigation. To think we almost didn't see as much of this character, thanks to earlier Men in Black drafts focusing more on K.
Vincent D’Onofrio Should Have Gotten An Award For His Edgar Performance
As a young kid, Men in Black was my introduction into the world of Vincent D’Onofrio. Watching him play Edgar was a quick primer into how good of a heavy he could play, both as a jerk of a farmer and a terrifying alien bug. Looking back on this performance, the dude deserved some sort of an award, or at least a major nomination for the work he put in.
Playing the true Edgar was easy enough, as D’Onofrio has the chops to be imposing. But to pair that with the off-kilter physicality of the alien walking around in an Edgar suit, and to still be imposing? That’s a skill that not many possess, and Vincent D’Onofrio deserved more recognition for that.
Men In Black’s Dialogue And Comedy Still Holds Up 25 Years Later
It’s easy to go back to a childhood favorite like Men in Black and to be met with outdated aspects that stick out. Jokes about celebrities of the time to moments where the studio is obviously trying to cash in on its hot lead of the moment are surefire ways to kill a film’s longevity. Even with Will Smith, tabloids, and a Dennis Rodman joke acting as the film’s ultimate button, these factors don’t age the film adversely.
As Men in Black’s script and story still treat 1997 as the modern day, it doesn’t make it the total personality of the piece. Ed Solomon’s script uses a timeless lens to look at the world behind the everyday facade we interpret, and it’s got moments that are just as applicable now as they were back then. The best example, of course, is Agent K’s line about the difference between a person and “people,” which I still quote from time to time in conversation.
Agent L Deserved To Be In The Sequels
Ok, the last two points I’m going to flesh out at length are things I have sat with for quite a while. The first big thorn in my side is that Dr. Laurel Weaver/Agent L (Linda Fiorentino) absolutely should have returned for the Men in Black sequels. Why she didn’t has been a bit of a mystery, though that hasn’t stopped stories from being told.
Without knowing a concrete reason why Linda Fiorentino didn't return for Men in Black II, all I can really say is that no matter the cause, losing out on Dr. Weaver's return is something that sticks out as one of the franchise's greatest missed opportunities. Though the Agent J/Agent K chemistry always works, it would have been good to see Agent L have a chance to co-lead the second film; especially since that would have given some more punch to Agent K’s return in Men in Black III.
I Still Don’t Hate The Original Men In Black Sequels
You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m not talking about any of the other Men in Black trilogy entries as if they’re a pox upon the land. Well, that’s because I actually enjoyed the movies that came after, save for Men in Black International. Nothing could have saved that spinoff, as even Sony’s chairman knew it went wrong.
Though I prefer the time traveling antics of Men in Black III, there’s still some good to be found in that first follow-up. Missed opportunities, like the omission of Agent L, weren’t enough to sink either of the next two movies. Not to mention, the third installment went back to the fun sci-fi nature of the first movie, and showed off Josh Brolin’s perfect Tommy Lee Jones impression. There’s tons of reasons to love Men in Black III, people just need to be open to them.
Other Random Thoughts I Had About Men In Black
There’s a bunch of other things I could talk about with Men in Black. Like how the novelization lets Agent K swear about his hatred of powdered coffee creamer, or that the movie’s Will Smith song “Men in Black” will never be overtaken by Men in Black II’s “Black Suits Comin’ (Nod Your Head)”. This is stuff that’s not really a long discussion, but more of a bullet point; and to that effect, here’s my final thoughts about Men in Black:
- Someone needs to put the Men in Black cartoon series on streaming.
- Face/Off and Men in Black makes for an awesome double feature.
- How has Jeebs not gotten a spin-off by this point?
- The Orion’s Belt twist is still as clever as ever.
- Tommy Lee Jones’ Spanish is first rate in the opening.
With all of that in mind, I hope that you get a chance to enjoy Men in Black again yourselves this weekend. 25 years later, and it's still as funny and insightful as it's ever been. Not to mention, the aliens of this universe are still some of the most visually exciting examples committed to the screen. If you haven't thought of rewatching this classic before, now's the time.
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CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.