In 1995, Will Smith starred in the first of three back-to-back films that would rocket his career into superstardom and solidify his status as a box office king. He kicked things off with Michael Bay’s feature directorial debut, Bad Boys, followed by the large-scale sci-fi actioner Independence Day, and rounded things off with the franchise-starter Men in Black. The third installment in the sci-fi comedy series, Men in Black 3, just opened in theaters and now Men in Black and Men in Black II have been released on Blu-ray to mark the occasion. Hit the jump for our review of both films on Blu-ray.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld took a gamble when casting two actors who could not be more different to lead Men in Black. A large amount of the film’s success is due to the dynamite chemistry between Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The pic opens with Jones’ Agent K tracking down an illegal alien of the extraterrestrial sort on the U.S./Mexico border, and the sequences serves as an introduction to who the Men in Black are and what they do. K’s partner leaves the agency on account of his old age, and we’re then introduced to Smith’s character, a rookie police officer in New York with great talent and a disregard for authority.
Smith’s character tries to apprehend what he thinks is a standard criminal, but the perp reveals himself to be a non-human before jumping off the top of a building. When K travels to the police department to do some clean-up work after this public display of alienness, he interviews Smith’s character and, after wiping his memory of the night’s events, hands him a card and asks him to come down to MIB headquarters.
Smith’s character, now called J, joins MIB after a series of tests and becomes K’s new partner. The story involves the two tracking a “bug” from another planet who is wearing the skin of a farmer (Vincent D’Onofrio) and on the hunt for a Galaxy on Earth that is also the object of another alien species’, the Arquillians, desire. The Arquillian fleet threatens to destroy Earth if the Galaxy isn’t returned to them by the end of a certain time period.
Watching Men in Black again for the first time in a while, the pic really holds up. As I said before, Smith and Jones’ rapport is the glue that holds the film together and the jokes still land as well as they did back in 1997. Linda Fiorentino doesn’t bring much to the table as the female lead (which explains her absence in the sequel), but she doesn’t really weigh the film down either.
The visual effects are surprisingly impressive all these years later, but it’s Rick Baker’s alien make-up that takes the cake. He’s really the heart and soul of this series, and his creature designs bring a great amount of fun and wonder to the film. The climax’s reliance on CGI is still a bit disappointing, and the tag doesn’t work at all in relation to the two following sequels, but the relationship between J and K follows a satisfying and surprisingly touching arc.
The Blu-ray transfer of Men in Black is actually pretty great, and the visual effects work blends well with the practical effects even though the film is 15 years old. The special features don’t differ from the previous 2008 Blu-ray release or the DVD, and since most of them were filmed at the time of production they’re pretty outdated. They include a Metamorphosis of MIB featurette, audio commentary with Barry Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones, extended and alternate scenes, and more. The disc also includes a digital copy of the film via Ultraviolet.
Unless you’re a MIB megafan and absolutely must own the movie on Blu-ray, there’s really not much reason to spring for this disc other than the superior visual transfer.
Released on Blu-ray for the first time is the 2002 sequel Men in Black II. Having neutralized Agent K and sent him to live with the love of his life at the end of the first film, MIB II begins with Agent J working with a new partner, played by Patrick Warburton. After a mishap involving a giant worm in a subway, J neuralizes his new partner and, once he returns to MIB headquarters, we understand that he’s had trouble keeping a partner since K left.
The villain this time around is a plant-based alien named Serleena that takes on the form of a Victoria’s Secret model (Lara Flynn Boyle). She’s come to Earth looking for the Light of Zartha, which she believed had left our planet 25 years ago; it turns out it didn’t. She picks up a bumbling two-headed alien played by Johnny Knoxville and sets out to find the Light. Meanwhile, upon learning that Serleena is on Earth and looking for the Light, Zed tells J that the agent responsible for sending the Light off of Earth in the first place was K. J, with the pug Frank as his new pal, seeks out the now-Postal Worker K to deneuralize him and find out what happened to the Light.
Men in Black II suffers from trying too hard to be a comedy rather than letting the ridiculous circumstances bring about the comedy on their own. Knoxville is insufferable as a supporting player, and Boyle is neither menacing nor interesting as the main antagonist. Rosario Dawson isn’t bad as person-of-interest Laura Vasquez, but Sonnenfeld doesn’t really give the character much to do after her first scene. Baker’s creature effects are the film’s saving grace, as he goes wild with a larger number (and more “out there”) designs this time around.
The 1080p transfer itself is impressive, but the visual effects actually look worse than those in the first Men in Black. It could be a result of the fact that there are simply more CG shots in the sequel than the first film, but many of the heavy CGI sequences just don’t play well at all. Again the climax hinges on CG effects, and again it fails to impress. Moreover, there’s nothing threatening about a giant plant. Why they chose to go the floral route with the antagonist is beyond me.
The special features are a bit more interesting on this disc than Men in Black, with a featurette devoted to Rick Baker and his creature designs being a highlight. Also included is an alternate ending that’s bafflingly bad, an audio commentary from Sonnenfeld, a blooper reel, a featurette for Danny Elfman’s score, and much more. Additionally, the packaging includes a digital copy of the film via the terrible Ultraviolet service.