Men in Black (film)

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"Protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe."

An MIB agent code-named K (Tommy Lee Jones) seeks out a new recruit to monitor alien activity on Earth. The MIB pass over Navy SEALs and Green Berets, instead deciding on the quick-thinking and fast-talking NYPD James Edwards (Will Smith). Without knowing what he was recruited for, James (now codenamed "J") is told that the MIB agency is beyond all government jurisdiction, and that they are responsible for the alien (and we do mean it) immigrants who have taken residence on Earth. Part of the MIB's effective cover-up is using advanced alien technology to impersonate actual government officials, and especially the use of a device called the Neuralyzer, which is able to give Laser-Guided Amnesia to anyone not wearing special MIB-issue tinted glasses.

The Men in Black films are only moderately based on the original comics, mostly borrowing the concept and wardrobe of the agents. With a smart sense of humor, the deadpan delivery of Tommy Lee Jones as the seen-it-all K and the much lauded performance of Will Smith as J, the first Men In Black movie was one of the most popular films of 1997. Some publicity was garnered on advertising posters from the fact that they are literally "Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones."

Men in Black II came out in 2002, and although it was somewhat well-received, it was considered a "more of the same" Sequelitis.

Men in Black 3 (stylized MIB3, but not MIB:3D) was released on May 25, 2012, with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith reprising their roles and the writer for Tropic Thunder and Idiocracy on writing duties. Also a Sequelitis.


Tropes used in Men in Black (film) include:
  • Aerith and Bob: The Twins who run the MIB headquarters are named Blblup and Bob. Note that we're guessing on how the first one's spelled. And the second one too.
    • The novelization provides spelled-out alien names for both. Both also have Earth nicknames, "Jack" and "Gracie".
  • Alien Autopsy: The coroner, Laurel, ends up performing these inadvertently on two non-human corpses. It's suggested that she is one of the MIB's most frequently neuralyzed individuals for this very reason.
  • Aliens Steal Cattle: For a movie about aliens and UFOs, it's notably averted. When the Bug arrives at the farmhouse where Edgar lives, a cow is seen grazing near the truck, but then the cow leaves the truck shortly before the Bug's spacecraft totals it while landing, and Bug-Edgar doesn't express any interest in the cattle on the farm.
  • Almost-Dead Guy: The Arquillian Prince inside the jeweler's body, who survives long enough to give a cryptic clue to the protagonists.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Averted with most of the alien species in this series, but played straight with the bug aliens. Subverted with the Boglodites...though technically they are planet looters, feasting on another planet's resources is a biological necessity for them.
  • Amnesia Missed a Spot: When J meets Dr. Weaver in the morgue, they vaguely notice that they may have met before, but dismiss it as Deja Vu. In the beginning of the movie, they had met, but K had wiped both of their memories.
  • Amusing Alien: Lots, but the Worm Guys and Jeebs are probably the best example.
  • Animated Adaptation: The series that used to air on Kids' WB! and Nickelodeon's short-lived SLAM!
  • Apologetic Attacker: "Deliver the Galaxy or Earth will be destroyed. Sorry."
  • Artistic License Gun Safety: J points the Noisy Cricket in K's face as soon as K hands it to him. K then proceeds to have J carry the gun into the field without having had a chance to practice with it. Both are major gun safety no-nos.
    • Both justified by the plot, of course: J doesn't believe the Cricket is a real gun, and K reacts to having it in his face like he would someone doing the same thing with a Glock. Heading into the field without practice is partly the time crunch they're under, partly MIB newbie hazing.
  • Asshole Victim: No one feels bad for Edgar.
  • Badass Creed:

Anonymity is your name
Silence, your native tongue
You are no longer part of the system
You are above the system. Over it. Beyond it
We're "Them." We're "They"
We are the Men in Black

  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Elvis Presley, Dennis Rodman, Al Roker, Sylvester Stallone, George Lucas, Michael Jackson (As Himself), and J's third grade teacher.
  • Behind the Black: J and K don't seem to notice the alien giving birth in the back seat of Reggie's car until Reggie pointed her out.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Do not squish any bugs in front of Edgar. Just don't. Agent Jay exploits this during the climax when he is trying to distract Edgar from entering a spaceship to escape Earth.
    • Don't mention how K had to leave his girlfriend behind when he joined the MIB organization.
    • Boris the Animal takes offense when he is referred to as Boris The Animal instead of simply Boris. Again, Agent Jay exploits this.
  • BFG:
    • Played with. The Noisy Cricket, possibly the tiniest MIB gun, can cause some serious damage. It's got a nasty recoil too. On the other hand, a gun the size of a shotgun can shoot down spaceships.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The Big Bad of the film is one of them.
  • Big Red Button:
    • Don't press one in K's car, unless in a real hurry.
    • Don't press the one in J's car unless you know what a PS 1 controller is, or if your mother ever gave you a Game Boy...
      • "WHAT IS A GAMEBOY?!"
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Almost all of the aliens the MIB processes.
  • Blatant Lies:

J: Have you ever flashy-thinged me?
K: No.
J: Have you ever flashy-thinged me?
K: No.

  • Blown Across the Room: Laser weapons hurt.
  • Book Ends:
    • "They're beautiful, aren't they?"
    • "See you around, ___." "No, ___, you won't."
  • Brick Joke: When J learns about aliens living in New York, he immediately assumes they work as cab drivers, and is told, "Not as many as you'd think." A while later, Dr. Laurel, when it's revealed to her, starts on a rant along the lines of, "I knew it. There was this cab driver the other day..."
  • Bring It: J to Edgar.

J: Don't start nothin'... (squish!) ...don't be nothin'!

  • Broad Strokes: The first movie and its sequels are only moderately based on certain aspects of the original comics. The Animated Adaptation also uses the first movie as a starting point, though K doesn't leave MIB, L remains with MIB as well, and Zed looks completely different, and while the first movie is referenced, it is also given an in universe Broad Strokes treatment.
    • The cartoon eventually explains this: the movie we see was based on the "real" J and K when someone learns their stories, and tweaks them slightly for Hollywood. In-universe, it's actually that the movie starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones was a Broad Strokes interpretation of what actually happened.
  • Broken Masquerade: K's introduction to aliens on Earth - and more-or-less how the Men in Black got started.
  • Buffy-Speak: J calls the neuralyzer the "Flashy-Thing", and refers to getting neuralyzed as "flashy-thingied".
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the first film:
    • The flying saucers from the first MIB meeting in 1961, converted into towers at Flushing.
    • The little red button in the LTD.
    • K ordering J to fasten his seat belt, J lecturing him about politeness, and K politely asking J to put on a seat belt after pushing the little red button.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Though played for laughs, when J shoots little Tiffany, his description of the situation demonstrates a skilled ability to pick up on details in the scene. While it seems he's simply embellishing to Zed, J is later the one who makes the connection between the cat Orion and the galaxy on its collar by noticing a picture in the jewel shop and seeing a cat with a charm hanging from its collar. He also remembers the flying saucers at the Worlds Fair in Queens.
  • Code Name: Each agent is supplied with one, but it's the first letter of their first name. Expanded Universe has them go into detail with it.
  • The Comically Serious: Nothing about the job fazes K in the slightest, so his deadpan approach to all the outlandish alien craziness is hilarious.

Beatrice: You here to make fun of me, too?
K: No ma'am, we at the FBI do not have a sense of humor we are aware of.

    • In an interview, Tommy Lee Jones says he actually is this; the way to make great comedy is stay close to Will Smith so the funny spills over.
  • Cool Car: Each agent, and each of them has a hidden form that comes in handy. "Old and Busted... new hotness."
  • Cool Shades: They've got a purpose, too - they protect against the mind-wiping effects of the Neuralyzer.
  • Creepy Cockroach: There's a giant roach alien who devours a human and uses his skin as a disguise. He also leaves swarms of roaches wherever he goes, and loves sugar (preferably in water).
  • Dark Is Not Evil: They are Men In Black after all, but also Earth's "best, last, and only defense against the scum of the universe." Lampshaded in Will Smith's music video.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Many characters, but most of all K and J.

K: I don't suppose you know what kind of alien life form leaves a green spectral trail and craves sugar water, do you?
J: Uh, wait, that was on "Final Jeopardy!" last night. Damn, Alex said...

  • The Dog Is an Alien: Frank the Pug.
  • Domestic Abuser: In the short time before he's killed and inhabited by the Bug, Edgar demeans his wife's cooking, calls her lazy and threatens to hit her.
  • Drives Like Crazy: K.
  • Drool Hello: Indirectly. After K enters the morgue to find out what's happened to J, he tries to light a cigarette but the match is put out by a drip of slime. He looks up, and now we know what happened to the clerk...
  • Eat Me: Trope Namer. K goads the Bug into eating him so he can retrieve his gun and blow it up from the inside.
  • Elvis Has Left the Planet: according to K, "He's not dead, he just went home."
  • Enemy Rising Behind: After K blasts his way out of the Bug, he and J sit back to reflect on the moment while the upper half of the Bug crawls behind them to attack, only to be blasted at the last second by Laurel using J's gun.
  • Epic Fail: "May I ask why you felt little Tiffany deserved to die?"
    • Played with: J points out that the freaky looking aliens all could be doing fairly innocuous things like working out, while Tiffany is walking around with physics textbooks well out of her grade range in a dark alley.
      • In fact, it's implied that this is why K picks J in the first place. The other guys, blasting away at the aliens without thinking, wouldn't be at their best in an environment where they've been given immensely powerful weapons and are meeting those aliens face-to-face.
  • ET Gave Us Wi-Fi: The MIB has been supporting themselves by selling alien technology, helping along the development of modern tech. Microwaves and wi-fi are all alien tech, and in the expanded universe, cell phones, solar power, and many more were all reverse-engineered from contraband.
  • Eureka Moment: J figures out the Arquillian prince's last words meant when he sees Frank barking at a cat.
  • Exact Words: The "You can have my gun..." exchange.
    • Even more layers of this in this scene, as the novelization reveals that prior to assimilating Edgar's memories, the Bug was using a crappy translator. It renders the saying "Your funeral" into the exact meaning of "Your proposal is acceptable."
    • Also, Bug-Edgar, when talking with the head chef in regards to where "little Ivan" is (the server who was supposed to be serving the ambassadors of the two alien races that Bug-Edgar is trying to assassinate and steal the galaxy from), responds that he "gave him a break." The camera pans, revealing that Bug-Edgar means this quite literally, having broken his body in half and stuffed him into a shelf.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Orion's Belt... technically, collar, but whatever.
  • Exposed Extraterrestrials: Whenever the MIB are around.
  • Extranormal Institute: The MIB.
  • Face Stealer: The Bug.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Bug clearly despises humans, and refers to them by a variety of unflattering terms, including "undeveloped pond-scum", "monkey-boys", "meat-sacks" and "milk-suckers". The rest of his species, according to Kay, are probably very much the same.
  • Fashion Dissonance: Agent J's getup at the end of the film (oval-rim sunglasses, long Nehru jacket, and band collar without a necktie) was Hollywood haute-couture for a brief moment towards the end of The Nineties. Its purpose in the film is probably to make him look more "up-to-date" and "hip". Tellingly, he goes back to a normal black suit for the sequels.
  • Fiction as Cover-Up: Tabloids serve a double purpose: they act as part of the alien cover-up by causing people to dismiss any stories they hear about aliens while also being a legitimate source of news for those in the know.
  • Flipping the Bird: When J asks K when he'll get his own Neuralyzer, K responds to him sarcastically that he'll get it when he grows up. In a stealthy way, J does that to K when scratching his own eyebrow with his middle finger.
  • Foreshadowing: The first line in the movie is "Goddamned bugs!"
  • Forbidden Chekhov's Gun:

Kay: Remember when I said 'Don't push the little red button?'
Jay: Yeah?
Kay: Push the little red button.
[Jay does so]
K: And you might want to put on a seat belt. [Car develops rocket boosters and travels upside down on the roof of the tunnel]

  • Freudian Threat: "I want you on the next transport off this rock or I'm going to shoot you where it don't grow back."
  • Funny Background Event: Zed neuralyzing the rejected recruits as J and K walk by shortly after the recruitment process. Also, the memorable alien-childbirth scene, which supplies the page image for the trope.
  • Fun with Acronyms:

J: See this badge?! Huh?! N-Y-P-D! Means I will kNock Yo' Punk-ass Down!

  • Gas Leak Coverup: The course of action taken after people who witness UFO's or aliens are neuralyzed.

Agent K: The flash of light you saw in the sky was not a UFO. Swamp gas from a weather balloon was trapped in a thermal pocket and reflected the light from Venus.

    • Played for Laughs in one scene when Agent J tries to give the standard cover story without having a Neuralyzer.
  • Genius Bruiser: J can beat aliens in a foot race and punch some of them out. But he's also a lateral thinker able to see the forest when everybody else is focused on the trees, and is usually able to make logical leaps that K can't.
  • Good Cop, Bad Cop
  • Go Through Me: Humorously played with:

J: There's only one way off this planet, baby, and that's through me! [the Bug promptly slaps him aside]

J: What branch of the government do we report to?
K: None, they ask too many questions.

  • Hammerspace: How the Bug fits in the Edgar-suit (although he's clearly not too comfy). It makes some sense when you know that roaches are capable of pressing their bodies together to fit into tighter spaces; it makes them extremely resistant against being killed by stepping on them (you need a hard flat surface for that to work). Since the Bug is based on roaches in design and physiology, it's not too far-fetched to assume he has an improved version of that survival technique.
    • "How can it do that?" "They have their ways. And using those ways just makes it even more angry."
    • The novel also explicitly states that there's some literal Hammerspace going on, and that this is a natural ability the Bugs have.
  • Hand Cannon: With a twist.
  • Herald
  • Historical In-Joke: Roswell. The 1964 World's Fair is shown to have hosted some really big UFOs.
  • Hugh Mann: Edgar.
  • Humans Are Morons: "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."

Agent K: Human thought is so primitive, it is looked upon as an infectious disease in some of the better galaxies. Kind of makes you feel proud, doesn't it?

  • I Love the Dead: Implied for Laurel.
    • As a bonus, Laurel at one point explicitly states the opposite, "I hate the living."
  • Immortal Life Is Cheap
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: In the games, the Aliens are responsible for everything. Also, the Galaxy in the first movie.
  • Insectoid Aliens: Edgar.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Zig Zagged trope. It's clearly stated that most aliens view Earth as a very unimportant planet. In fact, that's why these aliens visit: it's "an apolitical zone for aliens without a planet", the Casablanca of the universe. Of course, having so many alien species mingling every day (some of who are considered royalty on their homeworld) means that, in consequence, Earth Is the Center of the Universe.
    • This then gets worked into the film's Anthropic Principle: the Men In Black keep up The Masquerade to make sure the neutral zone stays neutral.
      • Which leads into a nasty conclusion: the Men In Black will keep using the Neuralyzers forever, as they themselves agree with all the aliens that humans are so stupid that they only way Earth can thrive is as a neutral zone. As long as the Men In Black are around, we will never go to space.
  • Insult Backfire: Human intelligence is so primitive that it's considered an infectious disease on other planets. "Kinda makes you proud, doesn't it?"
  • Internal Retcon: The whole point of the Neuralyzers.
  • Inventor of the Mundane: The MIB owned the patents to some 'out of town' inventions. Among them was Velcro.
  • Invisible Aliens: More like disguised, though.
  • Japanese Tourist: J lands on a bus full of them when chasing the perp during the Cold Opening.
  • Jerkass: Edgar was like this before he got killed and ended up body snatched by the Bug.
  • Just Eat Him: K, going to get back his gun from Edgar's throat in the first film's climax. "Eat me. EAT ME!!"
  • Kill and Replace: The Bug does this to Edgar.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: How the Neuralyzer works. They can be set to wipe someone of certain memories of someone, or the last twenty minutes of aliens trying to kill them. Repeated neuralyzations, however, cause deja vu in some subjects.
  • Leno Device: The end of the first movie shows tabloid articles talking about the effects of the climax on the public, including a conspiracy theory forming about Detroit perfecting a rocket car and one story about the baseball player who missed the catch during the baseball game shown in the movie claiming "UFO MADE ME MISS HOME RUN!" (which is actually true).
    • Of course, the joke is that the tabloids contain the best source of information for MIB ("You can try the New York Times if you want. They get lucky sometimes.").
  • Living Shadow
  • Losing Your Head: Jeebs. Kay shoots him in the head and he regrows it, with complaints about the inconvenience.

Jeebs: Do you have any idea how much that stings?
Kay: Show us the merchandise or you'll lose another head, Jeebs.

  • MacGuffin: The Galaxy in the first movie.
  • Masquerade: Most aliens use prosthetics to pass off as human, animal or machine.
  • Memory-Wiping Crew: A team is called in after every alien encounter, for obvious reasons.
  • The Men in Black: The good guy version.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Averted. K survives the Bug's innards to retrieve his gun and blast his way out.
  • Mobile Suit Human: Rosenberg. The alien prince of the Arquillian Empire who had the Galaxy was piloting one ("the little dude inside the big dude's head"), the better to hide from enemies — and to pet his cat.
  • Mood Whiplash: J is more than happy to help K with doing the whole Good Cop, Bad Cop routine while questioning Jeebs, until K holy shit blows Jeebs's head off, at which point J drops the act and screams at K to drop his weapon (the mood is restored when Jeebs's head grows back).
  • Multi-Armed Multitasking: The twin Mission Controls in the first movie, and the mail-sorting alien in the sequel.
  • My Card: K hands one to J as part of recruitment.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: How some alien languages work.
  • Naive Newcomer: J in the first movie indulges in Uncle Tomfoolery. K is somewhat less of one in the second when J tries to bring him back, though J still gets exasperated when he keeps poking everything.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: When "Edgar" escapes with the Galaxy and Laurel, J realizes he's escaped in a cab. The trouble is, the movie is set in New York, and it's rush hour.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Edgar and Beatrice.

J: (to Kay) The dude was that ugly before he was an alien?

  • Non-Answer: During the recruitment, J asks why they were there, and one of the military-trained recruits responds that Zed is looking the "the best of the best of the best, sir." J deduces, correctly, that none of the others knows why they're there either, and are following a "do what you're told" mentality.
    • Given the results of the test, it's entirely possible that the recruitment process was just a going-through-the-motions act put on for the benefit of J and/or Zed.
  • Nonverbal Miscommunication: J (understandably) misreading Laurel's frantic signals that the Bug is hiding in the trolley as a come-on.
  • Noodle Incident: Agent K tells Agent J, "you should've been here for the Zeronion migration in 1968." Additionally, whatever's going on in the Arquillian empire that has resulted in one of its princes living in exile.
  • Not This One, That One: Agent J is shown an awesome-looking Series-4 De-atomizer, but is actually issued a puny-looking Noisy Cricket.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: J, to a degree. The entire first act of the movie is designed to show that his streetwise smart-ass routine is largely a put-on and he's actually a very good, and even insightful, detective.
  • Oh Crap: Only once does Agent K briefly lose his composure, thanks to witnessing the Bug revealing itself.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Jeebs, Frank the Pug and the Worms (though they show up briefly in three different scenes). Positive response led to them all returning for the animated series and the sequel.
  • One-Winged Angel: Edgar's final form, a giant, angry cockroach with teeth.
  • Orphaned Punchline: "But honey, this one's eating my popcorn!" Here's the rest of the joke.
  • Parody: The film parodies the witterings of conspiracy theorists by taking them at face value.
  • Passing the Torch: At the end of the film, by K giving J the Neuralyzer.
  • Person with the Clothing: Black suits, black shades.
  • Planet Looters: Edgar's race feeds off intergalactic wars.
  • Planet Terra: In the novelization, Edgar calls humans "terries".
  • Plausible Deniability
  • Public Secret Message: Agent K explains that tabloids, which are assumed to be hoaxes by Muggles, are in fact based on true events behind The Masquerade (since tabloids have less Weirdness Censor than "serious" newspapers). Later, when Agent K retires, Agent J notices an article with Agent K's photo and an article about a postal worker who returned to his old job after years in a coma, revealing Agent K's fate, which then becomes a major plot point in the second film.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    • When J catches up to the perp he's chasing:

J: N! Y! P! D! Means I will kNock! Yo! Punk-ass! Down!

  • Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Happens three times.
    • The Bug to Edgar when they first meet.
    • Edwards to K after K shoots Jeebs in the head, only to drop it when his head grows back.
    • The Bug to J and K when they confront him in the morgue.
  • Race Lift: Jay. He was white in the original comics and was supposed to be played by Chris O'Donnell who was filming Batman and Robin at the time.
  • Recursive Reality: The MacGuffin that draws Edgar Bug to Earth in the first film is a miniature galaxy. The final scene reveals that our galaxy is just like the MacGuffin, and lies several layers down within a miniature galaxy-orb that an alien is playing marbles with.
    • Men in Black II pulls a similar gag by showing a world inside a locker where K's watch is a symbol of worship, then at the end, K shows J that their world is also simply inside a larger locker (doesn't work quite as well as the first film, due to Fridge Logic).
      • An alternate ending has J going on vacation and ending up on the world inside the locker and the size of its inhabitants, implying some sort of change in size when you go through the locker door, or that the lockers are more of a Portal Network.
  • Refuge in Audacity:

J: So, who exactly are you with? FBI? NSA?
K: I'm part of a bureau that licenses, monitors and polices alien activity on the planet Earth.
J: Whatever.

Edgar (the farmer): You can have my gun (Dramatic Gun Cock) when you pry it from my dead fingers.
Edgar (the bug): Your proposal is acceptable. [sucks Edgar into the hole]

Zed: "Congratulations, you're everything we've come to expect from years of government training." (inadequate).

J: This definitely rates about a 9.0 on my weird-shit-o-meter.

  • This Explains So Much: Twice. J discovers his third grade teacher really was an alien all along, and at the end when J reveals Dennis Rodman is one, too.
  • Threat Backfire: See Exact Words above.
    • Also, when kidnapping Laurel, she threatens that if Bug-Edgar does anything to her (after claiming that she's Earth's ruler or even a goddess), Earth will declare war on his species in an attempt to get him to let her go. Unfortunately, this gave Bug-Edgar a lot more incentive to kidnap her than before ("War? Good. That means more food for my family. All 78 million of them. That's a lot of mouths to feed, Highness.").
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: Parodied and played straight. A galactic week is one hour.
    • And the MIB operates on a 37-hour-day. According to Zed, "You get used to it. Or you have a psychotic episode."
  • Two Roads Before You: As the first movie demonstrates with J, all prospective agents have the choice between remaining in their current occupations and leading their lives, or joining the agency and severing all ties to their former lives.

J: Is it worth it?
K: Oh, it's worth it... if you're strong enough.

K: Alright, we'll use pulsar level five with a subsonic implosion factor.
J: What?
K: Just shoot the damn thing on the count of three!

K: But go ahead, read the New York Times if you want. They get lucky sometimes.

J, aiming a gun at K's head: DROP THE WEAPON!

    • Then Whiplashed back again as Jeebs regrows his head:

Jeebs, in a high squeaky voice: You insensitive prrrrrick! D'you have any idea how much that stings?!


Neuralizer 5336.jpg
Now, if you could just look right here... (*FLASH*)

You weren't at your computer for the past few minutes. You got up, got something to eat and then visited a few other sites. Checked some blogs, answered a couple e-mails, nothing too eventful or life changing. After a few minutes, you returned to All The Tropes and found a completely different page to view.