Men in Black is a 1997 science fiction action comedy spy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald and starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. The film was based on Lowell Cunningham’s The Men in Black comic book series, originally published by Aircel Comics. The film featured the creature effects and makeup of Rick Baker. The film was released on July 2, 1997, by Columbia Pictures and grossed $589,390,539 worldwide against a $90 million budget.
An animated series based on the film, titled Men in Black: The Series, ran from 1997 to 2001 on The WB. A live-action sequel, Men in Black II, was released in 2002. This was followed by Men in Black 3 in 2012. The success of the film inspired Marvel (who, by 1997, owned the property) to option other properties for development, later collaborating with Columbia Pictures to produce Spider-Man amongst other projects.
Men in Black (M.I.B.) is a secret non-government agency that polices extraterrestrial alien refugees. The agency operates from an underground base at a Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority ventilation station in Battery Park. MIB members use neuralyzers to erase witness’s memories of alien sightings. MIB is monitoring about 1500 aliens around the world, most of them in the vicinity of New York City.
One night, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and his partner, D (Richard Hamilton) intercept a truck containing illegal immigrants and an extraterrestrial disguised as a human. When a U.S. Border Patrol agent sees the alien without its disguise, the alien attacks him, forcing K to destroy it and neuralize the agent and his colleagues. D, feeling too old, asks K to neuralize him into “retirement”. Later, the MIB leader, Agent Zed (Rip Torn), suggests that K should search for a new partner.
Meanwhile, James Darrell Edwards III (Will Smith) is a New York police officer pursuing a man on foot. While chasing the incredibly fast and agile fugitive over the rooftops, Edwards sees the man blink with a set of secondary eyelids, and realizes he must be an alien. K arrives at the precinct station, questions Edwards about the incident, then takes him to a pawnshop run by Jack Jeebs (Tony Shalhoub) to identify the strange weapon the criminal drew on him. While questioning Jeebs, K reveals Jeebs is an alien by blowing his head off with a weapon, which grows back immediately. After Edwards finds a weapon identical to the one he saw among Jeebs’ hidden stash of alien technology, K neuralizes him and leaves the cop an MIB business card. Later, Edwards goes to the MIB’s secret headquarters and competes with several others to qualify to join the agency. After the tests, K takes him aside (while the others are neuralyzed) and offers him the position. Edwards accepts and his identity is erased, becoming Agent J.
Suspicious of why extraterrestrials are suddenly leaving the planet, the M.I.B. investigate a farmer named Edgar (Vincent D’Onofrio), who has been acting strangely after an alien craft crashed on his farm. Edgar has been killed and his skin used as a disguise by a “Bug”, a member of a giant cockroach-like species that are at war with several other alien races, including the Arquillians. An Arquillian prince hiding in Brooklyn who is disguised as a human jewelry store owner is attacked, and tells J as he dies that “the galaxy is on Orion’s belt”.
M.I.B. informant Frank the Pug (Tim Blaney), a Remoonian disguised as a small lapdog, explains that the missing galaxy is a massive source of energy housed in a small jewel. The Bug figures out the galaxy is hanging on the collar of Rosenberg’s cat Orion, which refuses to leave the prince’s body at the morgue. Orion has been taken care of by Dr. Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino). J arrives at the morgue just as the Bug kidnaps Weaver and grabs the galaxy. The Arquillians deliver an ultimatum to M.I.B. to secure the galaxy within an hour, or they will destroy Earth.
The Bug arrives at the site of two disguised flying saucers, the observation towers of the New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows. K and J are close behind and destroy one saucer. The Bug sheds Edgar’s skin and swallows J’s and K’s guns. K tells J to stop the Bug from getting onto the other ship, then taunts the Bug until K too is swallowed. J infuriates the Bug by crushing cockroaches and taunting him.
The Bug is blown open from the inside by K, who located his gun in the Bug’s stomach. As J and K sit on the ground covered in slime, the mortally wounded insect tries to attack again, but is killed by Weaver using J’s discarded weapon. The three return to M.I.B. headquarters and K tells J that he has not been training him as a partner, but as a replacement. J neuralyzes K, using a coma cover story to allow him to return to his civilian life and the young woman he left behind. A few days later, it is revealed that Weaver also joined M.I.B. and is now J’s new partner, Agent L.
As a coda, the camera rapidly pulls back, showing that Earth and the Milky Way galaxy are also inside an alien marble being used in a cosmic game.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this film:
First Published: May 11, 2012 – Re-Published: Jun 28, 2013