Screen-Jems Film Review: The Men in Black Franchise

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Margaret Jemian, Staff Writer

Disclaimer: minor spoilers ahead (it’s nothing too big, don’t worry)

Ah, spring break is upon us! Can you smell it? I know I can! What does it smell like, you ask? Well, a movie marathon, of course! And I’ve got just the films for you! 

Released almost exactly one year after Independence Day, the Fresh Prince combined efforts with Hollywood’s #1 Texan to create the greatest sci-fi-alien-comedy franchise the world has ever seen: Men in Black

Based on a three-part comic book series from 1990, there have been four films released in the movie series since 1997, the most recent being in 2019. Each film has brought its own crazy ins and outs and pros and cons to the table, so let’s discuss each, shall we?

Men in Black (1997)

The franchise starts out with Agent K of the Men in Black (played by Tommy Lee Jones) recruiting NYPD detective James ‘Jay’ Edwards (played by Will Smith) into a government funded, off-the-grid agency that monitors alien activity on planet Earth.

In this film, our precious planet is being threatened by an alien called ‘The Bug’ that takes and wears the literal skin of its victims.

As ‘The Bug’ wreaks havoc, the newly recruited Agent J learns the ropes of dealing with the extra-ordinary extraterrestrials, but not without adding his own unique flair and contagious fun to the job.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Back to the Future, Superman, and Kung Fu Panda, it’s that the original is always the best! That tried and true cinematic ideology does not skip out on this movie, as this is easily the best and most popular film in the series. It started it all! 

Men in Black is honestly a classic, and I’m surprised that I hadn’t watched it sooner! It is a hilarious and well-executed combination of comedy, sci-fi, and action without being too cheesy. 

As far as the CGI goes, it’s pretty good for the late 90s. Obviously it’s no Jurassic Park, but it’s also no The Matrix Reloaded; it’s acceptable and easy to overlook when the content is so enjoyable!

Men in Black II (2002)

Now, before I go into the specifics, let me just say this: if there’s one thing I’ve learned from The Godfather Part II, From Russia With Love, and The Dark Knight, it’s that the sequel can be better than the original. This, of course, does not apply here in any way, shape, or form. And you know what? That is probably a good thing.

Following Agent K’s retirement, Agent J is now the top agent in the MIB, however, his struggle to maintain a new partner that lives up to his standards clouds his conscience, especially as Earth’s newest threat emerges. A shape-shifting Kylothian known as Serleena has returned to retrieve a key that has the power to destroy an entire alien race, which was hidden by K back in the seventies. Now, it is up to J to bring him back into the field to jog his memory before Serleena does.

All in all, this movie sports a cheesy premise and mediocre acting, but it definitely has some of the funnier lines of the franchise. Serleena’s two-headed evil sidekick, played by Johnny Knoxville, is really quite unnecessary to the plot, as most of the humor surrounding him involves one of his heads yelling at the other. It’s funny at first, but gets old very quickly.

Also, I’m not exactly sure how this is possible, but I think the CGI got worse. While disappointing, I can’t say it’s surprising. 

Men in Black 3 (2012)

Taking place 10 years after the events of the second film, Agent J faces his biggest problem yet. After the escaped convict, Boris the Animal, kills Agent K, J must go back in time and work with the 1960s K of yesteryear (played by Josh Brolin) in order to make sure Boris is killed instead of imprisoned, avoiding K’s future death entirely. 

I’ll admit that when I first watched the trailer for this movie, I had serious doubts. It always seems that when time travel is thrown into the story three movies in, that’s when things start to go downhill. Despite this preconceived notion, I think that this is actually one of the best films in the franchise.

I feel that this movie had an exceedingly solid storyline, contrary to my initial thoughts regarding the plot. Between the fully developed characters and the cathartic end (I genuinely shed a tear), it felt satisfying to experience a well written yet continuously comedic film!

Men in Black: International (2019)

Taking place in an age where the stories of Agents K and J are legendary, a new generation of MIB agents monitor planet Earth. When Molly (Tessa Thompson) becomes the first civilian to discover the existence of MIB, the director admits her into the organization. Assigned to work in London, she partners up with Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), who, while famous for fighting off the dreaded ‘Hive,’ is in need of much organization and guidance. As the two go on a seemingly normal mission, they soon discover that they are on the brink of exposing something far greater than anything before: a mole in MIB.

I really only have two things to say to this, this, cinematic monstrosity: 1) how dare they besmirch the good name of the Men in Black movies by the integration of awful writing, which only perpetuated a multitude of other problems, and 2) who saw Thor: Ragnarok and thought it would be a good idea to have a reunion?

The flaws within the plot are absolutely endless, as every twist and turn can be seen from eighty miles away, boring the viewer. Also, the relationship between Thompson and Hemsworth’s characters is extremely ambiguous. Are they supposed to be friends, or is there an attempted suggestion at something more than that? 

Plot holes and predictable curveballs aside, the movie itself is undeniably funny. Hemsworth is always a character, whether he’s the god of thunder or dressed in a black suit and tie. Personally, I most enjoyed the performance of Kumail Nanjiani, as he voiced Pawny, the fierce yet loyal companion to whatever queen he serves. 

All in all, this is arguably the worst film in the franchise, because despite the thickly poured-on comic relief, the distorted and predictable writing is way too difficult to overlook.