If you’re like me, you probably spent your high school years watching everything even remotely appealing on Netflix. As far as classic 90s sci-fi went, I thought I’d pretty well traversed the genre. But late last week, a friend of mine (Quest editor Declan Bradley) brought up a trilogy of movies that I had overlooked.
Picture this: Will Smith, in a suit, blasting evil aliens with a space gun so shiny with chrome that it almost hurts your eyes to look at. Welcome to Men in Black. This film trilogy, executive produced by Steven Spielberg, has some moments worth laughing at, some worth cringing at, and plenty worth asking yourself “why am I still watching these movies?”
The plot of Men in Black is, at best, existent. We follow Agent J (played by Will Smith), a member of the top secret paramilitary non-governmental organization known only as The Men in Black. Their mission? Well, simply put, they’re ICE for aliens. Men in Black’s selection process consists of recruiting “the best of the best of the best,” with candidates coming from the military and, in Agent J’s case, the NYPD. Agent J’s selection doesn’t go quite to plan, as he fires only a single shot during the firearms proficiency test, failing to hit every alien target, yet landing a perfect headshot on the little human girl in the middle of the range (how fitting for an NYPD officer). But Agent J’s mentor, Agent K (played by Tommy Lee Jones), has pity on him, and takes him under his wing. In the first movie of the trilogy, we see Agent J and Agent K save earth from an evil super cockroach, who crash landed on earth, took over the body of a farmer, and did a convincing impression of Sisyphus by rolling his UFO into the back of a pest removal truck.
By the second film in the trilogy, Agent K has gone into retirement, and Agent J struggles to find a partner good enough to fill his shoes. He settles on a talking pug, Frank (played by Tim Blaney), who is a bit too excited to be Agent J’s partner. Luckily for Agent J, Agent K doesn’t stay in retirement for long: his expertise is required once more as an evil alien slug shapeshifter named Serleena (played by Lara Flynn Boyle) lands on earth with plans to steal “the Light.” Serleena takes the form of a lingerie model, and begins her search for the Light. Shortly thereafter, we are introduced to Agent J’s love interest, Laura Vasquez (played by Rosario Dawson).
For the third and final film of the trilogy, an evil alien hitman named Boris (played by Jermaine Clement) escapes from the supermax prison on the moon, Lunar Max, and makes his way to earth, where he travels back in time in an attempt to kill Agent K before Agent K arrests his past self. He succeeds in killing past Agent K, changing the course of history and leaving Agent J as the only agent at Men in Black who can remember Agent K – this is an odd choice that the film never fully explains. The film implies that Agent J has time traveled before, and this is why the temporal anomaly caused by Agent K’s death does not affect him. Upon learning that Agent K died in the past, Agent J decides to travel back into the past to prevent Agent K’s death and return the timeline to normalcy. All the time travel occuring in the film allows for some really entertaining world-building. It’s revealed that all supermodels are actually aliens and Andy Warhol was an undercover Men in Black agent. We also get to meet a five-dimensional unicorn alien named Griffin, who helps Agent J save Agent K.
All in all, the trilogy is worth watching. While the films lack any overarching social commentary, amazing cinematography, or great writing, the story is entertaining and Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play the protagonists wonderfully. Plus, there’s a talking pug and a five-dimensional alien unicorn, so what’s not to like? Be warned though, the first two movies feature some unsavory jokes, and the second movie is definitely the worst of the trilogy.