On Friday, May 25, "Men In Black 3" will open in theaters across the world. Starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones again in a continuation of the franchise, the film's financial success is probably a foregone conclusion.
Of more interest is what it represents for Smith. The Agent J actor's career has followed somewhat of a pattern, and he has come back full circle to the genre that really broke him into Hollywood: sci-fi action flick.
Fans of Smith stand by his years as the Fresh Prince. To be sure, his time on that series thrust him into the spotlight. But there were few moments of the powerful acting we have since seen from Smith exhibited during his time in Bel-Air with the Banks family.
The only one that comes to mind is the episode "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse," at the end of which Smith delivered an monologue about his father abandoning him. According to anecdotal evidence, the monologue was ad-libbed and reportedly moved his scene partner James Avery and the studio audience greatly. The monologue and preceding scene can be viewed here.
The mark of a fantastic actor, however, is the ability to take the words he is given on a page and make them ooze truth. As Alfred Hitchcock once said, "[w]hen an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, 'It's in the script.'" Whether or not Smith's monologue above was ad-libbed or not, the rest of the series was devoid of the power we now know him capable of.
We see hints in Smith's next rotation of movies, a series of blockbuster action hits including "Independence Day," "Men In Black," and "Bad Boys," of the kind of acting of which he is capable. But these films still focused on the special effects, the actors playing second-fiddle to the exploding of the White House or the spaceship landing in New York.
But Smith eventually graduated to the kind of thing that sticks. Movies like "Ali," where he conjured up a living, breathing, younger Cassius Clay, or "I Am Legend" where, for almost 90 minutes, the star dominated the screen with nary another soul save his dog. And of course there is "Seven Pounds," where we watched a deeply troubled man decide that if he cannot go on, there are at least others who deserve to.
Smith has been around the block. He's done movies for fame, he's done movies for money, he's done movies for the artistic gratification, and now he gets to look back at quite a diversified repertoire and pick his favorites. A look at his upcoming projects includes the aforementioned "Men In Black 3," "Bad Boys 3", "Hancock 2" and "I, Robot 2." For those who have enjoyed the kinds of thing Smith brought to the table with his "Fresh Prince" monologue, or "Ali," or "I Am Legend," or "Seven Pounds," the future for Smith looks exciting and explosive, but not compelling. But if he is to follow the pattern, perhaps Smith has some things up his sleeve for the distant future that will not disappoint.
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