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Men in Black II (2002)

PG-13 88 minutes

Directed by Barry Sonnenfield
Written by Robert Gordon, Barry Fanaro

 · Will Smith
 · Tommy Lee Jones

Review by Thom Stricklin

We've gotten spoiled by good sequels lately, haven't we? It's a shame, because we've forgotten one of the universal truths in the movie biz, perhaps best said in Scream 2: "Sequels suck. By definition alone, they're inferior films." Now yes, that is over-generalization, and I'm not saying Men in Black II sucks.

Some properties are just better off as single films than as franchises, and people shouldn't expect all sequels to compare to the original films. Unfortunately, it seems Men in Black may be one such example, and many moviegoers and critics did have high expectations for the second installment. I might've been one such person, but by the time I got around to seeing the film, I'd already heard the criticism and wasn't expecting much. As a result, I had a much better experience with the film than I would've otherwise.




Men in Black II is, like the agency's new firearms, a crowd-pleaser. The effects were on par with the original, and improved in several parts. Although we've seen a lot of the same "popcorn" in the first film, such as the "hyperdrive car" and oversized aliens, some of the carry-overs were well-implemented. Frank the Pug and the Worm Guys were destined to be big hits with the audience, and Sonnenfield put them to good use in the sequel.

Returning Aliens: 1, New Aliens: 0. Serleena was a disappointment as a villian, less developed and less menacing than Vincent D'Onofrio's character in the first film. However, I will give the filmmakers benefit of the doubt here, as Lara Flynn Boyle won the role through last-minute "emergency" casting. Had Famke Janssen (X-Men's Jean Grey) not backed out of the role due to family illness, I believe she could've done the role justice, transforming Boyle's flatly-acted space-babe into a brooding & sinister villian. Johnny Knoxville's character Scrad is so forgettable, he's actually forgotten about by the filmmakers in the end, and none of the other new extraterrestrials--good or bad--really step up to the challenge either.

A teary-eyed sidenote: Fans of the dearly-departed Tick series will appreciate Patrick Warburton's small-but-enjoyable role, as of all things, Agent "T". It's great to see that bug of justice on screen, even if he traded blue for black. Let it out, Pat. Let it out.

The best part of MIB II, like the original, is the chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Substance or no substance, a film is destined to have some success when these two are sharing the screen. However, the sequel is a bit heavy on vitamin J and deprived of vitamin K. Smith begins the film promising as a lonelier, more mature Agent J. Before long, though, Smith reveals some inconsistency and reverts too much to classic Agent Jay--or typical Will Smith, I'm not sure which. Jones, on the other hand, has really figured out the appeal of his Agent Kay, and is funnier as the "straight man" than Smith is as the clown.




Enter the criticism. MIB II could've spoiled us again as another flawless sequel, but it suffered from some uninspired writing. As the film runs, well... It just runs. It seems the writing is only in place to provide more opportunity for action sequences or jokes. There were some potential plot points that would've improved the film, had they been developed. For instance, Jay's solitude, his longing for a companion could've made for a great story if they'd just gone further with it. Additionally, Rosario Dawson's role as Laura, whose significance simply comes out of the blue at the end of the film, could've become a solid third leg for this movie to stand on... Had they only gone further.

Unispired writing, lazy writing, or simply getting into habits? I don't know. The writers did succeed in making most of the characters enjoyable, and kept the film fairly humorous, though not as much as the first. Above all, I think they simply fell into that typical sequel scenario: "Returning Stars plus Good Special Effects plus Two Attractive Female Roles equals Good Sequel." They failed to realize that today's audience is a bit more demanding, and wants some real story twists or general depth, not just a rehashing of the first film.



All in all, Men in Black II is forgettable fun. It doesn't begin to compare with the intrigue the original film provided, but at the same time, it doesn't diminish the first film at all. I would compare these two films to the first two Jurassic Park movies. Hopefully, Sonnenfield and crew will learn from their mistakes and put a little more thought into MIB III, should they decide to continue.

I won't cut the film down, declare it a waste of celluloid as some have. It's not bad... It's just not great. If you're hungry for a good action-comedy, go and see MIB II. Just keep realistic expectations of what it is--a sequel, an average one at that--and you should enjoy it.

828 Words Published: 16 July 2002

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