Box Office: $250.7 million
Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, Best Original Score
Oscar Wins: Best Makeup
Available To Stream: Netflix
This is Will Smith at his movie star best. Having fun fighting aliens in a movie that comes out on July 4th weekend. Smith became a very good actor but I still wish we had old Will Smith back. Sullen actor Will Smith may get more awards (or at least he did) but I like the kinds of movies this version of Will Smith makes better.
Men In Black is the rare film that is really creative but that almost anyone at any age can enjoy. Whenever I watch MIB, I am always reminded of Beetlejuice and it's not just because of Danny Elfman's score. Both movies have a darkness to them but are also playful as well. This is the best movie Barry Sonnenfeld ever directed. He did have success with Addams Family Values and Get Shorty before making MIB. When this came out, it was a monster hit and allowed Sonnenfeld to have the green light to direct any movie he'd like.
Sonnenfeld teamed up with Will Smith again but this time, it didn't work. The movie Sonnenfeld chose to make was Wild Wild West. Co-starring Kevin Kline, it was one of the biggest box office failures that year and "won" the Razzie for Worst Film of the Year. After that, he was stuck directing MIB sequels and family dramas. Sonnenfeld hasn't directed a movie since Nine Lives came out in 2016.
The roles Tommy Lee Jones chose after winning the Oscar for The Fugitive were interesting. Before the 90's were over, he'd play Ty Cobb, Two-Face and Agent K. He would, for the only time in his career, choose to be in a number of big budget movies. He tried to save people from lava in Volcano and voiced one of the Small Soldiers. He wouldn't get nominated for another Oscar until 2008 for In The Valley of Elah.
It would never happen because the Academy has a sci-fi bias but Vincent D'Onofrio deserved award consideration for his performance in this movie. His physical comedy is among the best of the entire decade and the weird voice he uses is great. It's characters and acting like this that really elevate this movie to being more than "something to bring the kids too". This is filled with interesting people doing some weird shit but Jones and Smith anchor the movie so well, the weirdness never overtakes the movie. They are able to co-exist.
Some of the visual effects in the movie don't stand the test of time. The green screen and alien puppets are obvious. But even when that is the case, it's creative things you are seeing on screen even if it doesn't look very real. Give me creativity over hyper-realism in a movie like this. Another criticism is Linda Fiorentino's casting. She was most famous for playing femme fatales in The Last Seduction and Jade. That same energy doesn't work in a movie like this. I don't believe her when she is so eager to go find aliens with these guys.
Will Smith was one of the last movie stars. Who now can get people to go see his or her movie every July 4th weekend? Especially with creative ideas that aren't part of some larger franchise? That stretch to really open his movie career with Bad Boys, Independence Day, Men In Black and Rules of Engagement is tough to beat for any actor over the past 30 years. Jim Carrey and Tom Cruise have had some great runs but it's very small company that can match Will Smith.
I don't know if we'll ever see this MIB version of Will Smith again anytime soon. He's been playing downbeat characters for a long time now. Whether it be I Am Legend (a good movie) or Suicide Squad (not a good movie), he's really been leaning towards these sad, broken men. He'll be trying to win back-to-back Oscars this winter with Emancipation. Despite Slapgate, he'll still be able to be nominated and win an Oscar. He just can't be present at the actual ceremony. I wish he'd move off of awards bait movies for a bit. Go back to playing fun characters in exciting movies. That's how to win back your fanbase. Allow people to have fun watching Will Smith again. It's been awhile.