After attending a screening of this summer's snooze fest of the latest Men in Black sequel, Men in Black: International, I had one desire: to go home and rewatch the original Men in Black. International is only offensive in so far in that it is very boring, a movie ostensibly set in the world that Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones occupied in 1997, but with none of the same goofy spirit. From its opening moment it feels dead inside, despite noble efforts from stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson.
So, what was missing? Why is Barry Sonnenfeld's introduction to this mythology a film I hold so dear? Why does it feel so delightfully quaint in this day and age? Here's the thing: The first Men in Black holds up, mainly because it tries to do so little. It's basically an episode of Law & Order with aliens. There's a lot of goo and a lot of great performances, among them Vincent D'Onofrio as the villainous Bug, whose delivery of the line "sugar water" recently inspired a (fantastic) oral history over at Vulture (full transparency, I was initially planning on devoting this entire story to the brilliance of D'Onofrio until that piece came along, and did it way better). There's something so delightfully tactile -- or maybe I should say visceral because of all the splattering alien guts -- about the first Men in Black that makes it feel alive in a way that a lot of modern blockbusters, including its latest follow-up, do not.
Because, all things considered, it's been a pretty grim summer at the movies, thanks to labored installments in massive franchises like Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Dark Phoenix. Not to make this all "those were the days..." -- because there has always been a lot of crap -- but when I did put on Men in Black (which is rentable on Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play), it was like a grimy breath of fresh air. Let's revisit just why it holds up so well.