Men in Black, 25 years of a small revolution in science fiction

Men in Black, 25 years of a small revolution in science fiction

Men in Black

It is really difficult to find within the sci-fi genre a more original, wild and fun film than Men in Black by Barry Sonnenfeld, released on July 2, 1997, and gone down in history as one of the most successful blockbusters of the 90s. But there is also something more to say about this film, and it's not about its being a perfect mix of irony and action, the buddy movie element that was making a comeback or the special effects. Basically Men in Black anticipated what the cinecomics of the future would be like, those who dominated the cinemas of the 21st century. Re-embracing Agent J and Agent K, that kitsch and Gascon universe, the neuralizer and the lines from Saturday Night Life, is more than just a journey into memory.

A perfect example of cinecomic modern Cinecomic. Very often, Men in Black was above all this, one of those capable of reaping a box office success comparable to what Tim Burton had known with his Batman. Above all, this film was able to revive the link between comics and the cinema, which the flops known from the two films on the Dark Knight by Joel Schumacher seemed to have once again called into question.

They had been two films in all respects faithful to the paper originals of that period, the 90s, on balance the worst decade ever for American comics. And the great credit on the part of Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald and her majesty Steven Spielberg (producers of Men in Black) was understanding that fidelity to the original source was not always the best way. After all, comics and cinema are two different mediums with two different audiences.

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It was something that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has brought to the highest levels, good or bad almost imitating Men in Black for most of its production, choosing the disengagement, sacrificing where necessary the original narrative of the characters. The Men in Black comic was created by Lowell Cunningham and drawn by Sandy Carruthers in 1990. Initially published for Aircel Comics (later acquired by Malibu Comics), it eventually became the property of who's guess? That's right, from Marvel. Anyone who has read even a single issue of "The Men in Black" cannot deny the charm of a comic with a dark, conspiratorial, macabre and violent atmosphere. The Men in Black there were interested in all kinds of paranormal activities on earth, keeping the rest of the world in the dark, but also shaping its fate cruelly if necessary.

In short, we were theoretically very distant from the pop, self-deprecating and sometimes even parody atmosphere with which Barry Sonnenfeld's film went down in history, grossing 600 million dollars, a record figure for the time. Such unanimous success with audiences and critics was certainly due to the screenplay by Ed Solomon, capable of creating a colorful, lively and imaginative world, as well as directing and extraordinary special effects. But above all, perhaps the secret ingredient was to choose a young and very launched Will Smith as the protagonist.

A duo that became legendary Will Smith had gone from being a familiar presence in American homes with the cult series Willy - the Prince of Bel-Air, to the status of an international icon. Smith still today, despite the uproar during the last night of the Oscars, is the symbol of that new artistic course of the 90s, in which the African American community conquered the world. After Made in America and Six Degrees of Separation, it was Michael Bay who definitively launched him with Bad Boys, who tied him to a new prototype of an African American hero, who combined the comic verve of an Eddie Murphy, with the physicality and sensuality of a Richard Roundtree. With Independence Day his fame was strengthened, but it was with Men in Black that Smith made the decisive leap in quality. With this film he also became an international music star. And to say that at the beginning for the role of Agent J, Chris O'Donnell and David Schwimmer, two absolutely different white actors, were considered.

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Sonnenfeld, however, sensed that something different was needed, a face more connected to the new generations and to a more transversal audience. He was perfectly right because Will Smith wandered through that film like a kind of mad meteor, a perfect counterpoint to Tommy Lee Jones' stiffness, toughness and old-fashioned urban cowboy do.

So much. one was over the top, bubbly and messy, so much the other seemed like a sort of personification of how we have all always imagined CIA or secret service agents. Jones's Agent K looked almost like a robot in human guise, but going deeper, the character was also a great tribute to the great stars of the hard boiled tradition that was.

Together, the two formed the backbone of a sensational sci-fi buddy movie, as not even Mel Brooks had managed to create in Spaceballs, even going beyond what Ian Solo and Chewbacca had been in Star Wars. All within a science fiction film in all respects, which amused and at the same time proposed an unprecedented diegetic process, while connecting to the best of science fiction of the 50s and 60s, as well as to comics of the same period. The two were also assisted by a talented Vincent D'Onofrio, in the role of the "human shell" of the alien Bug, as well as by an absolutely central special and visual effects department, but which Sonnenfeld always wanted at the service of history, never the opposite. Just another of the elements that still today make this film lean towards the universe of authorship, the same that Sonnenfeld had placed in The Addams Family.

Behind the laughter, the prophecy on the 21st century It has been 25 years since Men in Black, which has had two sequels certainly up to par in terms of fun, rhythm and depth of the characters, in particular with the third episode , released ten years ago. Unforgettable instead Men in Black: International, with Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, who failed across the board. The reason is very simple: that film, at the dawn of the new millennium, brought with it hidden behind the laughter, the shootings with unlikely weapons and the foolishness that Agent J made, also the very current theme on the concept of truth and its accessibility in modern society. Agent K, while trying to persuade Will Smith to join the Men in Black, explains it to him with disarming cynicism: “A person is mature. People are dull, fearful and dangerous animals, you know that too ".

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Looking at these years of pandemic, the increasingly deep-rooted social and political clashes, how much disinformation has become an enemy with which we must fight on a daily basis, unfortunately, one cannot but agree with this film perfectly: not everything can be disclosed. Or rather, it can also be done of course, but the effects will certainly be very different from what we expect or hope, because not everyone accepts the truth. As also explained in the last chapter of The Matrix, rejection is the most natural of human reactions. Although individualistic, perhaps even classist and ultra-conservative in advocating this message, Men in Black still reminds us today that there is a substantial difference between the intelligence of the individual and the collective, and confusing them is never a good idea.

Yet at the same time, for 25 years this film has also been a huge praise to the different, to the originals, to those who think for themselves. Not only or not so much for that jungle of alien beings in human guise that crowds the Big Apple, but precisely by virtue of the two protagonists, in reality much more refractory to the rules than it seems.

Will Smith's Agent J in particular, basically overcomes the selections and manages to survive precisely because he thinks differently from others, he goes beyond the surface, he is not a typical product of the system. Which is just another reason why 25 years ago, Barry Sonnenfeld not only renewed science fiction, but also predicted the future, connected to the conflict between the individual and the collective, which would have been at the center are not of this film genre, but of the same Western civilization.

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