Once upon a time, Will Smith wasn’t a movie star. Despite having a likeable personality, a solid music career, and a successful TV show, there were still people who didn’t believe he was capable of carrying a movie on the big screen. He had shared credit on 1995’s Bad Boys with Martin Lawrence (still at the top of his game) and even after the success of Independence Day in 1996, some were still reluctant to give him credit (after all, that movie had special effects, aliens, explosions, and Jeff Goldblum, any one of which could have pushed it over the top).
That all changed in 1997.
Men In Black was a huge box-office success, re-launched Smith’s music career (Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It anyone?), and upped the ante on special effects driven summer blockbusters.
The plot was pretty straightforward: Agents J and K have to track down a rogue galaxy that’s somewhere on Orion’s belt and return it to the Arquillians before Edgar snatches it and gets Earth destroyed in the process. Simple enough right? Wrong. As usually seems to be the case, shit starts to go sideways when the local medical examiner starts asking too many questions, and no one can figure out what the hell the little guy meant by Orion’s belt. (Quick sidenote: How did it seem like a good idea to put such an important galaxy on a cat’s collar? Was the cat an alien also? Because any normal cat would have bolted the moment that someone needed the galaxy, because cats are difficult like that. Then again, maybe they just planned on shooting it when the time came? So many questions left unanswered…)
Any good summer movie needs to have memorable scenes and quotable dialogue, and Men In Black delivered. I still can’t make the drive between JFK and downtown NYC without shouting at the cabbie “You’re takin’ the tunnel?! That things gonna be packed!!” and hoping that he answers with “You know a better way to get to Queens?!” (Note: Still hasn’t happened)
But in terms of what people remember most, nothing can top the Neuralyzer. I defy you to find me one middle school or high school student who saw this movie and then didn’t spend the next few weeks debating what they would do if they could erase someone’s memory.
The question is actually trickier than it first appears, because in order for a Neuralyzer to be effective, it needs to be rare. If Neuralyzers were easily accessible, like an app on your phone, then they would be worthless; everyone would just zap the shit out of each other all day, and no one would be able to remember anything. The economy would collapse because productivity would immediately plummet to zero (Did you finish that report? ZZAAAPPP!! What report?), the casualty rate would go through the roof because people would forget to take their pills or get their shots, social structure would fall apart because no one would remember that being rich means you’re better than everyone else; it would be complete anarchy. The better solution would be the iNeuralyzer. That way only a few people would be able to afford them, and the people who did have them would think they were better than everyone else (social structure restored…phew).
It’s also impossible to discuss Men In Black without at least mentioning the ending. Really Barry? You go fun and games the whole way through and then try to get existential and deep at the very end by suggesting to kids that we’re just another marble? How many frustrated parents had to field a million questions about that one after the movie?
Ultimately, people go to the movies to be entertained and forget about real life for a few hours. Men in Black held up its end of the bargain.
Cab drivers…no not as many as you’d think…
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