Men In Black has all the elements of a perfect sci-fi comedy

This year is the 25th anniversary of the release of the first Jurassic Park. For most of us at Cinedelphia, it is a film that has defined what we look for in a summer blockbuster. So what better time than now to revisit the last 25 years of summer blockbusters and pick our favorites? View the criteria and full introduction here, and the whole series here.

3. Men in Black (dir. Barry Sonnenfeld, 1997)

“We’re not hosting an intergalactic kegger down here.” – Zed (Rip Torn)

I’ve already written about the near-impossible circumstances that led my family and me to watch Men in Black in an actual movie theater, all together, with tons of other people. As improbable as this event was in the history of our family, even more crazy is that each of us, with our completely divergent interests and tastes, walked away enjoying the hell out of this movie. The reason is simple: this is a near perfect summer movie.

We’ll start with length. This film is no longer or shorter than it needs to be. I love stories that are taut and streamlined. It gives the dialogue more immediacy because not a single word can be wasted. Everything spoken is done in service of the characters and the story. This is an even more incredible feat with Men in Black, a film based on a niche graphic novel series about a mysterious organization that monitors alien life on earth. The film cleverly thrusts us into a very strange universe that is slowly revealed through Will Smith’s green Agent J character. The situation is ripe for comedy on all levels (buddy-cop comedy, slapstick, gross-out, you name it) and it delivers on every level, all the while poking fun at the eccentricities of New York City residents, culture, and politics.

Next up: fun characters on a crazy adventure, and an even better villain. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones make a great odd-ball pairing, but the real star of the show that I’ve only recently come to appreciate is Vincent D’Onofrio’s Edgar/Bug character. It is by far one of the grossest performances I’ve seen, as D’Onofrio manages to embody the spirit of a “bug” wearing an “Edgar suit.” You can feel with each step D’Onofrio’s bug struggling to remain in his human skin without splitting it completely apart. It’s a great makeup job coupled with an amazing physical performance.

Aliens! What is it about summer and aliens that just goes together? I for one enjoy my aliens year-round but there’s something to be said for the success of science fiction on screen when it’s hot as hell outside. Just a comment more than a thought-out argument.

What else? A great song of course! How easy it is to forget that once upon a time, a hit song usually preceded a hit movie. In this case, it was Will Smith’s “Men in Black.” There is also a music video where Big Will dances with the resurrected alien Mickey from the film’s opening. The song is a smooth banger, one of Smith’s best film releases rivaled only by “Wild Wild West.” I’m singing it right now. Both actually.

On a beautiful summer evening in July, I attended a screening of Men in Black as part of the FringeArts outdoor summer screening series (programmed by our own Catherine Haas!). I can’t express in enough detail to you how fun this film is too watch with a large group, outside, with a cool breeze blowing and cold beer in my hand. The perfect summer blockbuster film.

Author: Jill Malcolm

Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.

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