Men in Black (film series)

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Men in Black
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Produced by Laurie MacDonald
Walter F. Parkes
Screenplay by Ed Solomon (1)
Robert Gordon (2)
Etan Cohen (3)
Story by Ed Solomon (1)
Robert Gordon (2)
Barry Fanaro (2)
Etan Cohen (3)
Based on The Men in Black
by Lowell Cunningham
Starring Tommy Lee Jones
Will Smith
Rip Torn
Tony Shalhoub
David Cross
Tim Blaney
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Donald Peterman (1)
Greg Gardiner (2)
Bill Pope (3)
Edited by Jim Miller (1)
Richard Pearson (2)
Steven Weisberg (2)
Don Zimmerman (3)
Production
company
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
1997-present
Running time
292 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $495 million
Box office $1.655 billion

Men in Black is a series of American science fiction action comedy films directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and based on Malibu / Marvel comic book series The Men in Black by Lowell Cunningham. The first film, Men in Black, was released in 1997, the second film, Men in Black II, in 2002, and the third film, Men in Black 3 was released in 2012. Amblin Entertainment and MacDonald/Parkes Productions produced all three films and distributed through Columbia Pictures.

Development[edit]

The film is based upon the comic book The Men in Black by Lowell Cunningham. Producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald optioned the rights to The Men in Black in 1992, and hired Ed Solomon to write a very faithful script. Parkes and MacDonald wanted Barry Sonnenfeld as director because he had helmed the darkly humorous The Addams Family and its sequel Addams Family Values. Sonnenfeld was attached to Get Shorty (1995), so they approached Les Mayfield to direct, as they had heard about the positive reception to his remake of Miracle on 34th Street. They actually saw the film later and decided he was inappropriate.[citation needed] Men in Black was delayed so as to allow Sonnenfeld to make it his next project after Get Shorty.[1]

Much of the initial script drafts were set underground, with locations ranging from Kansas to Washington DC and Nevada. Sonnenfeld decided to change the location to New York City, because the director felt New Yorkers would be tolerant of aliens who behaved oddly while disguised. He also felt much of the city's structures resembled flying saucers and rocket ships. Production designer Bo Welch designed the MIB headquarters with a 1960s tone in mind, because that was when their organization is formed. He cited influences from Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, who designed a terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Being the arrival point of aliens on Earth, Welch felt MIB HQ had to resemble an airport.[1]

ILM provided most of the special effects. Rick Baker led the special effects of the film, which was the most complex in his career to date. He had to have approval from both director Barry Sonnenfeld and executive producer Steven Spielberg: "It was like, 'Steven likes the head on this one and Barry really likes the body on this one, so why don't you do a mix and match?' And I'd say, because it wouldn't make any sense." Sonnenfeld also changed a lot of the film's aesthetic during pre-production: "I started out saying aliens shouldn't be what humans perceive them to be. Why do they need eyes? So Rick did these great designs, and I'd say, 'That's great — but how do we know where he's looking?' I ended up where everyone else did, only I took three months."[2]

Filming began in March 1995. Five months into the shoot, the crew realized their ending was unexciting. It was originally meant to be a humorous existential debate between Agent J and the Bug, and five potential replacements were discussed. One of these had Laurel Weaver being neuralyzed and K remaining an agent. The change to a fight sequence annoyed Rick Baker, as their animatronic Bug had to be replaced with computer-generated imagery. Further changes were made during post-production to simplify the plotline involving the possession of the tiny galaxy. The Arquillians would hand over the galaxy to the Baltians, ending a long war. The bugs need to feed on the casualties of the war and steal it to continue the war. Through changing of subtitles, the images on MIB's main computer and Frank the Pug's dialogue, the Baltians were eliminated from the plot. Earth goes from being potentially destroyed in the crossfire between the two races into being possibly destroyed by the Arquillians to prevent the bugs getting the galaxy.[1]

Despite some initial involvement from David Koepp (who left to work on Spider-Man),[3] the script for Men in Black II was written by Robert Gordon and later revised by Barry Fanaro (who added pop culture references, something which Gordon had deliberately avoided).[4] Sonnenfeld took issue with the producers' focus on the love story between Will Smith's and Rosario Dawson's characters, saying that "I learned on Wild Wild West that audiences didn't want to see Will as the straight man. And until Tommy comes back into the movie, by definition Will's the straight man."[3] Fanaro condensed the first part of the film and brought Agent K in earlier.[3] The climax of the second film was originally to have taken place at New York City's World Trade Center. However, this had to be changed following the destruction of the buildings in the September 11 attacks.[5] The day after the attacks of September 11, a spokesperson for the studio said that the ending would be refilmed.[6]

Supervising sound editor Skip Lievsay used a Synclavier to recreate and improve the original recording of the neuralyzer sound effect from the first film (which was the sound of a strobe flash as it recycles) by removing some distortion.[7] For some of the scenes with the Serleena creature, the sound crew "took tree branches, put them inside a rubber membrane and pushed that around and added some water."[7] For the special effects scene where the subway train is attacked by Jeff the Worm, a specially designed vise was used to crush a subway car and make it look as if it had been bitten in half.[4]

A video game partly based on the film was released in 2002 titled Men in Black II: Alien Escape.[8]

The premise of the third film was first proposed to director Barry Sonnenfeld by Will Smith during the filming of Men in Black II in 2002, with Smith suggesting that his character, Agent J, travel back in time to save his partner, Agent K, while at the same time exploring Agent K's backstory. Sonnenfeld said the idea "turned out to be a very long process of development, mainly because of the knotting [sic] issues of time travel...."[9] The film was first announced on April 1, 2009, by Sony Pictures Entertainment president Rory Bruer during a Sony ShoWest presentation.[10] By October 2009, Etan Cohen had been hired to write the screenplay.[11] As of March 2010, Will Smith remained undecided whether to join this film or another, The City That Sailed.[12] Sonnenfeld in May 2010 confirmed the return of the protagonists played by Tommy Lee Jones and Smith.[13] Both had expressed interest in 2008 in reprising their roles.[14][15] Other staff includes Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald as producers, with Steven Spielberg as executive producer; all were producers of the two previous films.[16]

In June, writer David Koepp was hired to rewrite the Cohen script.[17] On June 11, 2010, the fan site SonyInsider.com posted what it described as a "clip [that] debuted at an exclusive Sony 3D TV launch event at Sony Pictures Studios",[18] showing Smith dressed as Agent J wearing 3-D glasses and stating, "I know what you're thinking — 'M.I.B.', 3-D, we're going to be blowing stuff up and all that. But that's not really what we're doing right now. We're here for one purpose, and for one purpose only: Just to let you know that I'm about to make 3-D look good."[19] A teaser poster for the film was also released on September 21, 2010.[20] A third writer, Jeff Nathanson, was hired in November 2010 to rewrite the time-travel segment of the script in which the story takes place in 1969.[21] Nathanson and Koepp, along with producer Spielberg, had previously worked together on the 2008 film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Films[edit]

Film U.S. release date Director Screenwriter(s) Story by Producer(s)
Men in Black July 2, 1997 (1997-07-02) Barry Sonnenfeld Ed Solomon Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald
Men in Black II July 3, 2002 (2002-07-03) Robert Gordon & Barry Fanaro Robert Gordon
Men in Black 3 May 14, 2012 (2012-05-14) Etan Cohen
MIB June 14, 2019 (2019-06-14) F. Gary Gray Art Marcum & Matt Holloway
MIB 23 TBA James Bobin TBA TBA TBA

Men in Black (1997)[edit]

Men in Black is the first film in the series. Men in Black follows the exploits of Agent J and Agent K, members of a top-secret organization established to monitor and police alien activity on Earth. After Agent K hand picks James D. Edwards from the NYPD and recruits him for MiB, the two Men in Black find themselves in the middle of the deadly plot by an intergalactic terrorist who has arrived on Earth to steal a power source of unimaginable power. In order to prevent worlds from colliding, the MiB must track down the terrorist and prevent the destruction of Earth. It's just another typical day for the Men in Black. The film was released on March 27, 1997, to positive reviews and grossed over $589 million worldwide.

Men in Black II (2002)[edit]

Men in Black II is the second film in the series, set five years after the first. For Agent J, it is another day at the office, monitoring, licensing and policing all alien activity on Earth. Agent K retired from MiB after the events of the first film and has returned to his former life. One day, J receives a report of an unauthorized landing of an alien spacecraft near New York. It is an old enemy of MiB, a Kylothian named Serleena, who is searching for a powerful artifact called The Light of Zartha. J investigates and realizes that it requires knowledge of events that only K possesses. After other recruited MiB agents fail to meet J's standards as a partner, J decides to bring back K and restore K's memory as an MiB agent to try and stop Serleena. The film was released on July 3, 2002, to mixed reviews and grossed over $441 million worldwide.

Men in Black 3 (2012)[edit]

Men in Black 3 is the third film in the series and was released on May 25, 2012, to positive reviews and grossed over $624 million worldwide. When a notorious alien criminal known as 'Boris the Animal' escapes LunarMax Security Prison to seek revenge on K for capturing him in 1969, he is able to use secret time-travel technology to go back in time and undo the events of his defeat, resulting in a new timeline where K is killed during his fight with Boris and Earth is now vulnerable to an invasion from his species. With J the only one who remembers the original history, he must go back in time to join forces with the younger K and ensure that events play out as they should.

Future[edit]

MIB (2019)[edit]

In September 2017, it was reported that the studio is fast-tracking a spin-off film with younger actors, and a plot handling the invasion of aliens on a global scale. Screenwriting duo Art Marcum and Matt Holloway will write the screenplay, with F. Gary Gray in negotiations to direct.[22] In March 2018, it was announced Steven Spielberg would act as an executive producer for the project, while Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson would co-star.[23] In May 2018, Liam Neeson joined the cast, while Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald will act as producers on the project.[24] The film is scheduled to be released on June 14, 2019.[25][26]

MIB 23 (TBA)[edit]

On December 10, 2014, it was revealed that Sony was planning a crossover between Men in Black and Jump Street. The news was leaked after Sony's system was hacked[27] and then confirmed by the directors of the Jump Street films, Chris Miller and Phil Lord during an interview about it.[28][29] James Bobin was announced as director in 2016.[29][30][31][32][33] However, development has since appeared to cease.[34]

Fourth Men in Black film[edit]

Both Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones have said that they would "consider" appearing in a Men in Black 4.[35] Jones said it would be "easy to pick up where we left off. We know what we are doing, we know how to do it. It's just a hell of a lot of fun."[36] In July 2012, Columbia chief executive Doug Belgrad said: "We're very pleased with the financial performance of Men in Black 3, and we believe it is an ongoing franchise. We're going to do [another one], but we don't have clarity yet on how it should be done."[37] Barry Sonnenfeld said: "Will's kind of really smart, but as I said, kind of really annoying, too much energy. When he would get too rambunctious, I would tell him save that for Men in Black 4, Will is out and [his son] Jaden Smith is in … if we continue on this path, it won't be released until 2032 but it will be damn good." Will Smith said that: "Jaden is already 13 years old, so he's at that mythological boys age, you know – it's time for his bro-mitzvah. So he's right at that place ... He's ready to test me so he can't come anywhere near my movies right now!"[38] In early 2013, Oren Uziel was writing a Men in Black 4 screenplay for Sony Pictures.[39]

Cast and characters[edit]

Characters Films
Men in Black Men in Black II Men in Black 3
1997 2002 2012
James Darrell Edwards III
Agent J
Will Smith Will Smith
Cayen Martin
(young)
Kevin Brown
Agent K
Tommy Lee Jones Tommy Lee Jones
Josh Brolin
(young)
Chief Zed Rip Torn Kirk Larsen
(corpse)
Frank the Pug
Agent F
Tim Blaney
Mushu the Dog
Photograph
Jack Jeebs Tony Shalhoub
Newton David Cross
Laurel Weaver
Agent L
Linda Fiorentino
Edgar the Bug Vincent D'Onofrio
Derrick Cunningham
Agent D
Richard Hamilton
Beatrice Siobhan Fallon Hogan
Gentle Rosenberg Mike Nussbaum
Serleena
Kylothian Queen
Lara Flynn Boyle
Laura Vasquez
The Light of Zartha
Rosario Dawson
Charlie
Scrad
Johnny Knoxville
Agent T Patrick Warburton
Hailey Colombe Jacobsen
Jarra John Alexander
Agent M Michael Jackson
Boris the Animal Jemaine Clement
Agent O Emma Thompson
Alice Eve
(young)
Griffin
The Arcanian
Michael Stuhlbarg
James Darrell Edwards II Mike Colter
Lilly Poison Nicole Scherzinger
Jeffrey Price Michael Chernus
Agent AA Will Arnett
Andy Warhol
Agent W
Bill Hader
Mr. Wu Keone Young
Agent X David Rasche
Worm Guys Brad Abrell
Thom Fountain
Carl J. Johnson
Drew Massey
Brad Abrell
Thom Fountain
Carl J. Johnson
Greg Ballora
Brad Abrell
Thom Fountain
Carl J. Johnson
Tim Blaney
Security Guard Alpheus Merchant Woodie King Jr.

Reception[edit]

Men in Black won the Academy Award for Best Makeup, and was also nominated for Best Original Score and Best Art Direction. It was also nominated for the Golden Globe of Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.[40] The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, having a 92% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes film critic website.[41] Following the film's release, Ray-Ban stated sales of their Predator 2 sunglasses (worn by the organization to deflect neuralyzers) tripled to $5 million.[42]

Men in Black II despite being a financial success, did not gain as positive a critical reception as the original MIB had. The film received mixed reviews from critics, gaining a 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as opposed to the 92% rating given for its predecessor, based on 193 reviews and a Metacritic score of 49.[41][43] A. O. Scott of The New York Times said that, "Within the trivial, ingratiating scope of its ambition, though, the sequel is pleasant enough," and, noting the huge array of aliens designed by Rick Baker, said that the film "really belongs to Mr. Baker."[44] A review in The Hindu called the film "worth viewing once."[45] Another review from Digital Media FX magazine praised the spaceships as looking very realistic, but criticized many of the simpler visual effects such as the moving backgrounds composited behind the car windows using blue-screen (which it called a throwback to the special effects of earlier decades).[46] In August 2002, Entertainment Weekly placed the Worm Guys among their list of the best CG characters, and said that the enlarged roles of both Frank the Pug and the Worm Guys in Men in Black II was beneficial for the "tiring franchise".[47] The film earned a Razzie Award nomination for Lara Flynn Boyle as Worst Supporting Actress.[48]

Men in Black 3 received mostly positive reviews from film critics. The film currently holds a 69% "Fresh" approval rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 6.1/10, based on an aggregation of 228 reviews.[49] It has a score of 58 on Metacritic based on 38 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[50] Roger Ebert gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, in particular praising Josh Brolin's role as the young Agent K, which he cites as an excellent example of good casting. Ebert also praised the "ingenious plot, bizarre monsters, audacious cliff-hanging" and the "virtuoso final sequence".[51] Richard Roeper gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars while saying, "It's that rare threequel that doesn't suck. Great special effects, surprising amount of heart."[52] A. O. Scott of The New York Times also gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars and commented, "Men in Black 3 arrives in the multiplexes of the world with no particular agenda. Which may be part of the reason that it turns out to be so much fun."[53] Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly noted, "Sonnenfeld and Cohen move their baby along with an integrity and gait that ought to serve as a blueprint for other filmmakers faced with the particular challenges of reviving big-ticket and time-dated hunks of pop culture."[54] Rafer Guzman of Newsday wrote, "The franchise is no longer the zenith of blockbusterism, and the gooey effects from Hollywood veteran Rick Baker look overly familiar, but Men in Black 3 remains an amiable comedy with some fondly familiar faces."[55]

Box office performance[edit]

Film Release date Box office gross Box office ranking Budget Reference
North America Other
territories
Worldwide All time
North America
All time
worldwide
Men in Black July 2, 1997 $250,690,539 $338,000,000 $589,390,539 70 75 $90 million [56]
Men in Black II July 3, 2002 $190,418,803 $251,400,000 $441,818,803 137 135 $190 million [57]
Men in Black 3 May 25, 2012 $179,020,854 $445,005,922 $624,026,776 1600 65 $215 million [58]
Total $620,130,196 $1,035,105,992 $1,655,236,118 $495 million [59]

Critical and public response[edit]

Film Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic CinemaScore
Men in Black 92% (85 reviews)[41] 71 (22 reviews)[60] B+[61]
Men in Black II 39% (194 reviews)[62] 49 (37 reviews)[43] B+[61]
Men in Black 3 69% (230 reviews)[63] 58 (38 reviews)[64] B+[61]

References[edit]

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