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Men in Black Trilogy: 20th Anniversary 4K Edition

Sony Pictures // PG-13 // December 5, 2017 // Region 0
List Price: $39.50 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted January 13, 2018 | E-mail the Author
The Films:

Shortly before Barry Sonnenfeld's first Men in Black film arrived at the theaters in the late-‘90s, star Will Smith pulled the trigger on releasing his first solo track -- uh, "Men in Black" -- in which the actor and musician sings about the covert operations of the alien-investigating G-men featured in the franchise. Combined with Smith's rising popularity as an action movie star in Bad Boys and Independence Day, all signs pointed to a degree of confidence that these "men in black" would become a significant property, especially at a point when eccentric science-fiction blockbusters were on the upswing in Hollywood. Despite a purposely goofy premise, the original Men in Black engaged in clever world-building hinged on both adapting from an original comic premise and deliberately tweaking the source's intentions for a unique, family friendly tone, supported by a smart fusion of practical and computer-generated effects. The same can't be said for its subpar first sequel, but the decade-later third installment revives the fond memories built with the original.

Men in Black (1997):

The humorous scope of the Men in Black franchise quickly makes its presence known in the first installment, where police offer James Edwards (Will Smith) encounters an alien during a footchase, who makes claims about a certain somebody "coming" and Earth's existence being put in peril. Shortly after, James is interviewed by Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), a member of the Men in Black in search of a new partner, who introduces James to some of the extraterrestrial underbelly of New York ... as well as to the tools of the MiB trade, including a memory erasing device. Judging his physical and mentally adaptable qualifications, Kay suggests that James should come and try out for the organization, which eventually leads to his induction into the Men in Black and to his name change: J, or Jay, or whatever. He arrives just in time to save Earth from that alien conflict, one that involves Agents Jay and Kay hunting down an actual "galaxy" embedded somewhere in the US, a country concealing the existence of many different sorts of aliens.

It's a little odd that Will Smith's character earns the designation "J" considering the Men in Black have been around since the late-‘60s and employ many agents -- and the most popular men's names largely start with J -- but that's part of the insulated fun of the script by Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure writer Ed Solomon. Men in Black obviously doesn't take itself very seriously, from the rapid acceptance of James as an agent to how he's thrown into the investigation without any real additional training, yet the stakes of the situation and James' attachment to the conflict manages to sell the illusion. In fact, the polarized yet charming rapport between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, an old and deliberately rigid G-man alongside a young, streetwise ex-detective, makes one actively eager to see Agent Jay make the transformation and get his hands dirty, literally, with the Men in Black's day-to-day activities. The dialogue between them is sharp and consistently funny, amplified by Jones' deadpan delivery and Smith's exaggerated adjustments to things way outside of Agent J's element.

Underneath the obvious streak of humor lies a broad, engaging cat-and-mouse chase for this mysteriously tangible "galaxy", also hunted by a large "bug" that has grotesquely borrowed the external appearance of Vincent D'Onofrio to, uh, blend in. Despite a few obvious instances, Men in Black remains smart and self-aware of computer-generated effects, incorporating practical creations wherever possible that grasp onto as much authenticity as the outlandish premise can muster, especially involving the agents' contact with tentacles and insects. Two decades later, the slightly cartoonish presence of the creatures -- worm guys, talking dogs, googly-eyed aliens hiding in human suits -- manage to hold up against the setting created by Sonnenfeld and his crew, locking the audience into the atmosphere of exaggerated science-fiction and its amusing plays on government cover-ups of extraterrestrial activity. The interchanging pace of comedy and action never leaves Men in Black with a dull moment, and the right mixture of cast, crew, and production design make the stylized nature of it all look good.

Men in Black 2 (2002):

In fact, the formula worked so well for Barry Sonnenfeld and Sony that they clearly wanted to capture the same magic with the sequel, Men in Black 2. Events at the end of the original film were designed in such a way that the torch would be passed to Agent Jay and a more youthful team of men (and women) in black, yet the popularity of the Jones-Smith rapport appears to have changed up the plans a bit. As Jay struggles with training new agents -- Patrick Warburton makes an amusingly exaggerated appearance here -- another alien descends onto Earth, disguises itself as a human, and begins a murderous search for what's called the Light of Zartha: another item that holds enough significance to threaten Earth's safety. Despite a half-decade of Jay developing his investigative skills and rising up the MiB ranks, he still can't crack the case without the knowledge of Agent Kay, now retired. To solve the case, Jay has to reach out to his old partner, reverse the requisite memory wiping, and hope that he remembers enough to point them toward the Light of Zartha so they'll reach it before Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle), their shapeshifting nemesis.

Everything about Men in Black 2 suffers from the symptoms of "sequelitis", both the duplication of the first film's scripting and the mad scramble to undo certain plot points that'd make this follow-up less appealing. Instead of a bug from outer space dressed in an Edgar suit, there's a tentacled alien dressed in a Victoria's Secret model suit, played with piercing vigor by Lara Flynn Boyle. Instead of looking for a vague galaxy, the gang are looking for a vague "light" that could be anything and anywhere. And instead of Jay getting acclimated to being one of the Men in Black, it's Kay who's abruptly thrown into the suit and ushered around by Jay, complete with nudges, winks, and assorted gags blatantly ripping from the first film's successful taglines and punchlines. Outside of the brief detour to fetch Kay from his hiding retirement spot, and the slight flip in dynamic that it affords the Jones-Smith rapport, the plotting of Men in Black 2 comes dangerous close to operating as if a search-‘n-replace were performed on the original script's points and tweaked juuuuuust enough for it to look and sound different.

The evolution of visual effects over that half-decade also led Barry Sonnenfeld and his crew to have more confidence in relying on CG for extraterrestrial beings, which, unlike the original MiB film, are so in-your-face prevalent that their age constantly sticks out like a sore thumb. Serleena's lethal green tentacles and the two-headed rendering of Johnny Knoxville's insufferable alien flunky Scrad detract from every scene they're involved in, and that's a hefty number of sequences, responsible for much -- almost all -- of the villainous tension. Couple these things with some surprisingly obvious product placement, from Mercedes Benz being the "new hotness" to a PlayStation controller being used to pilot it, and Men in Black 2 loses more and more of its ability to conceal the sequel's commercial ambitions as it moves forward. Sure, there's some joy to be found in the rapport between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, and Rosario Dawson adds a little something extra to the mix as Jay's pseudo-romantic interest (and a reminder of what he's giving up as an agent), but they're all tangled up in a mess of a sequel.

Men in Black 3 (2012):

The real dudes and dudettes in suits responsible for Men in Black must've picked up on the problems as well, because despite the relatively profitable nature of the sequel -- even if it cost $50 million more to make than the first and pulled in around $150 million less worldwide -- the franchise decided to take a decade-long hiatus. Therefore, it was surprising to see the rejuvenated interest in another sequel after such a long time away, but excitement, nostalgia, and the return of director Barry Sonnenfeld all fueled Men in Black 3 … and with it, a very clear understanding that it couldn't repeat the mistakes of MiB 2. Two words can pretty much sum up what this film includes that differentiates it: time travel. After the last member of an alien species (Jemaine Clement) escapes from prison and jumps back in time to prevent his people's demise -- by killing Agent Kay -- Agent Jay also jumps back to that period, the end of the ‘60s, to undo his actions. There, he teams up with young Agent Kay (Josh Brolin) to prevent those events from happening, while also getting to know that version of his partner before sternness took over.

It's tough to ignore the draw of curiosity that Josh Brolin brings to Men in Black 3, as he musters an almost uncanny imitation of his No Country for Old Men co-star if his character had 40 or so years knocked off him. In an unsurprising move considering the actor's rise in popularity, Brolin essentially becomes the star of the show, while Smith's Agent Jay basks in the presence of this younger iteration of his partner and mostly keeps their efforts from flying off the rails. Their rapport isn't the same as that between Smith and Jones, but that's a good thing, hinged on this lighter reflection of the character's personality that mixes the familiar stoic glances and deadpan speech with bits of joy and attachment unbefitting of him. Smith's Jay isn't the same either, both as a veteran member of the Men in Black and as a refined, Oscar-nominated actor, and the exchanges between him and Brolin accomplish something richer and less levity-driven. Despite hunting a heavily make-upped Jemaine Clement with jagged teeth, a snarling voice, and a bug that enters and exits his hand, there's a more dramatically tender presence to the objectives and execution of this film.

The time travel aspect may be outlandish, shoving the Men in Black franchise further away from science-fiction and into science-fantasy territory, but at least there's little disputing the originality of this script from Tropic Thunder scribe Etan Cohen in comparison to the prior installments. By exploring the past of the Men in Black not so long after their creation, the story makes witty callbacks to the original film(s) by revealing how their advanced technology and operations with aliens looked in the context of 1969, while also using the period for specific, restrained socially-charged humor involving Jay's race. Meddling with time and the universe like this also drastically elevates the stakes, further underscored by the bit part played by Michael Stuhlbarg as a quirky seer of the future's many different iterations. Barry Sonnenfeld doesn't let the chaos of crisscrossing timelines get in the way of using the concept for roller-coaster action, though, and the final act's incorporation of events from the era -- and its quirky decisions to alter what's known about MiB's universe and characters -- skyrockets the franchise in a wild direction.

The 4K Blu-ray:

The Men in Black are suited up and ready to go on 4K Blu-ray in a 20th Anniversary Edition set from Sony Home Entertainment, a relatively streamlined but classy presentation that'll remind fans a little bit of the old-school Limited Edition DVD set from … oof, eighteen years ago now. Matte, semi-rubbery material coats the outer box, which houses three simple digipack cases containing two discs for each of the three films: Disc One being the black-topped 4K disc, and Disc Two being the blue-topped standard Blu-ray disc. Modified poster artwork adorns the outer covers for the digipacks, while the inside of each case contains a checklist for all the extras included on each of the Blu-ray discs. While the Blu-rays have matching minimal artwork to go along with the 4K discs, these are reused authorings from prior Blu-ray presentations of the films, with identifiable menu navigation and applicable previews centered around the disc's time of release.

Video and Audio:

As one of Sony's more popular titles, the original Men in Black has been produced on home video many different times in a variety of presentations, ranging from a quality-enhanced Superbit DVD and Deluxe Edition multi-disc sets to the most recent, barebones "4K Remastered" Blu-ray presentation. With that much effort and that many passes through the QA machine, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the 1.85:1-framed, 2160p 4K presentation of the twenty-year-old cinematography looks phenomenal, yet this one comes even closer to the experience of watching it at the cinema than the others. Skin surfaces on both humans and aliens remain exceptionally tight, the metallic sheen on the futuristic weapons is solid, and the ornate digital effects in glowing orbs and galaxies exhibits delightful flickers of nuance through the disc's razor-sharp attunement to detail. Contrast leans dark, but that's the attitude of the film, and it latches onto the details in darker corners with aplomb. The fineness of film grain and the HDR effect on the depth of the image underneath are what take this iteration of Men in Black up a notch, presenting elegant bright levels that accentuate dimensionality in exterior shots and, occasionally, in the MiB headquarters. The oldest film of the batch gets things off to a resoundingly strong start.

Men in Black 2 was shot with the same roundabout style as the first film in mind, so it's no surprise that the 4K transfers for the pair are comparable, with this one also operating at 2160p at its 1.85:1-framed aspect ratio. The increase in budget afforded the production some extra doses of interesting lighting and production design, which so happen to also show off some of the HDR's effects at a nice level. The shine of sweat on a forehead, the intense aqua glow of illuminated water, and the strong radiance of white lighting in the Men in Black headquarters trigger 4K's stark improvements in depth and luminescence. Beyond that, many of the same featured notable in the original Men in Black carry over here: strong detail pops up in skin surfaces and hair strands, shiny metal sports effortless shading gradation in motion, and scattered pops of color both inside and out are vivid yet conform to the visual intentions. Scenes involving generous digital effects lean a tad darker and flatter than the others, but it's a minor concern in what's otherwise a transfer that's on par with its predecessor.

Now, Men in Black 3 has a good decade less of age weighing on its photography, and while the appearance of the film shares similarities in color grading and general motion, the angles and perspectives have received an upgrade with the times as well. Naturally, the younger film will enjoy some boosts in lucidity and general depth of image with this 4K image, again framed at 1.85:1 at 2160p, and the crispness of detail and contrast balance are immensely satisfying throughout, gracefully representing the contours of faces both smooth and craggy, the slickness of hair, and the smooth metal extensions of the Men in Black's tools of the trade. To compliment the jump in time, however, there are some warmer shades and brighter lighting than can be found in the previous two films, which also end up being admirable challenges for the 4K capabilities of the disc, revealed in Will Smith's time standing atop the Empire State Building and the scenery in and around Cape Canaveral. Skin tones adjust to the shifts in location with immensely convincing richness, and the texture of the film stock and depth of the image round out a stunning presentation on 4K.

I flirted with the idea of writing a little bit about each individual title's Dolby ATMOS tracks, but the language was going to start getting repetitive between each one, as they're all fantastic, potent, endlessly clear blockbuster tracks that generous sprawl across their respective surround stages. Oddly enough, the first two installments possess quirkier sci-fi effects than the third with ray guns and alien bodily functions, which find a comfortable, natural presence in the front and center channels with impeccable clarity. Explosiveness involving futuristic artillery hitting the mark and good old-fashioned impact of space objects telegraphs room-filling bass with tight, firm control over the effects. Dialogue fluctuates a tad bit in quality between the three installments, with the first experiencing some mildly muffled clarity that's inherent in the source, but it's constantly without overt distortion and never lacking the clarity for it to be inaudible. Danny Elfman's energetic scoring shifts from eccentric and atmospheric in the first to more rock-inspired and energetic for the third, but they all possess robust high-end and low-end responses and stay balanced with the effects throughout. The Men in Black get jiggy with their ATMOS tracks in near-faultless fashion here. A slew of other foreign language options are also available, some in DTS-HD Master Audio options and others in standard 5.1 choices, as well as a plethora of subtitles tracks.

Special Features:

There's nothing new in the extras department to be found anywhere across this iteration of the Men in Black Trilogy, and nothing at all except for Cast and Crew Bio slideshows appearing on the actual 4K discs themselves. That being said, the included Blu-ray discs do contain an exceptional amount of bonus content, ranging from commentaries with Barry Sonnenfeld and legacy featurettes to visual FX breakdowns and creature design conceptualizations. All these have been elaborated on directly in DVDTalk's previous coverage for the Men in Black films -- Ryan Keefer's Men in Black review; William Harrison's Men in Black 2 review; and Neil Lumbard's Men in Black 3 review -- but here's a breakdown of what's been duplicated on each Blu-ray disc, in order of appearance:


  • Telestrator Commentary with Barry Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones
  • Technical Commentary with Barry Sonnenfeld, Rick Baker, and ILM Team
  • Intergalactic Pursuit: The MIB Trivia Game
  • Ask Frank the Pug! Interactive Experience
  • Extended and Alternate Scenes (4:21, 4x3 Letterbox)
  • Metamorphosis of Men in Black (23:12, 4x3 Letterbox)
  • Original Featurette (6:38, 4x3 Letterbox)
  • Visual Effects Scene Deconstruction With Commentary (16x9 Interface)
  • Character Animation Studies (16x9 Interface)
  • Creatures: Concept to Completion (16x9 Interface)
  • Galleries and Storyboard Comparisons (16x9 Interface)
  • Scene Edition Workship with Director's Introduction (16x9 Interface)
  • Will Smith's "Men in Black" Music Video (4:19, 4x3)
  • Original Trailer (2:30, 16x9 HD) and Teaser (1:43, 16x9 HD)


  • Commentary with Barry Sonnenfeld
  • Alternate Ending (2:13, 4x3)
  • Blooper Reel (5:09, 4x3)
  • MIIB: ADR (Automatic Dialog Recording) (9:25, 4x3)
  • Design in Motion: The Look of MIIB (10:01, 4x3)
  • Rick Baker: Alien Maker (10:46, 4x3)
  • Squish, Splat Sploosh: The Stellar Sounds of MIIB (8:04, 4x3)
  • Cosmic Symphonies: Elfman in Space 12:52, 4x3)
  • Barry Sonnenfeld's Intergalactic Guide to Comedy (6:00, 4x3)
  • Creature Featurettes (25:53, 4x3)
  • Serleena Animated Sequence (1:51, 4x3)
  • Multi-Angle Scene Deconstructions (7:42, 4x3)
  • Will Smith's "Black Suits Comin'" Music Video (4:39, 4x3)


  • Spot the Alien Game
  • Partners in Time: The Making of MIB 3 (26:24, 16x9 HD)
  • The Evolution of Cool: MIB 1960 vs. Today (11:14, 16x9 HD)
  • Keeping it Surreal: The Visual FX of MIB 3 (10:26, 16x9 HD)
  • Scene Investigations (17:25, 16x9 HD)
  • Progression Reels (17:37, 16x9 HD)
  • Gag Reel (3:54, 16x9 HD)
  • Pitbull's "Back in Time" Music Video (3:34, 16x9 HD)

Final Thoughts:

As with most trilogies or series without a roadmap of where the stories are headed, the Men in Black Trilogy survives on the strength of its original film and the chemistry between lead actors Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, as the later installments exist for audiences to extend their fondness for the characters and continue to orbit the world-building. Both as a science-fiction film with a comedic streak and as a product of ‘90s cinema, Barry Sonnenfeld's first Men In Black remains an effective fusion of action and humor, one that really understood that balance in tones and the strengths of both sides of computer and practical visual effects. The sequel, somewhat understandably, tries to duplicate the successes that made the first a smash hit, but ends up looking devoid of originality and overestimates the tangibility of certain computer-reliant imagery. Men in Black 3 arrives following a decade of retirement not only as a chance to do things right, but to completely overhaul the series for a new generation and wipe memories of the second entry, to which it partially succeeds with its time-travel departures and the performance of Josh Brolin. Charm, inventiveness, and fast-paced action throughout the first and third films make stumbling straight through to the second worth the time.

Sony Home Entertainment's 20th Anniversary Edition of the Men in Black Trilogy should be viewed for what it is: new, beautiful 4K Remastered presentations of the series that have been repackaged with the existent Blu-ray discs to include any extras, including all the same special features as they were previously displayed on the old discs. Therefore, the strength of the set hinges almost entirely on the improved quality of the films' appearance, and the trio of 4K transfers and Dolby ATMOS tracks engage in a near flawless landing, whether it's the two-decades-old film or the one that's only five or six years young. The Men in Black look slick here, which earns the set a High Recommendation.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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