Men In Black sequels have always seemed to be a nightmare to put together. What with trying to get everyone’s schedule in order (Will Smith is a hella busy man regardless of what year it is and Tommy Lee Jones famously despises leaving his ranch) and compiling a script that hits the correct, off-beat tone, it’s no wonder Sony have consistently struggled to match the quality of the 1997 original. Quite possibly their worst attempt was their first, which is especially confusing since it brings back almost everything from the first movie wholesale – including a bunch of the jokes…
Years after Agent K retired from MIB and had his memory wiped, Agent J has become top agent but has gotten a reputation of burning through partners like a chilli enthusiast goes through toilet paper. However, when Serleena – yet another prime example of the scum of the universe – turns up on terra firmer to generally be a genocidal pain in the shades, the Men In Black have to figure what The Light Of Zartha is and why this mess of snapping tentacles wants it (yes, it’s another macguffin plot again)? After she searches for it’s prize in a New York resteraunt and kills the alien owner (again, eerily like the first film), the lonely J falls for Laura, a witness who works there (the most outlandish thing in a movie that features two headed man performing mouth to mouth on himself is that someone who looks like Rosario Dawson works in a grotty pizzeria), and confides in her instead of following their famously mind wiping protocol.
Realising that the only agent with info on anything that’s happening is the agent who dealt with the Light Of Zartha case years earlier, J seeks out K (now a similarly gruff postman) to re-enlist him to help and restore his memory.
As Serleena stages a full on invasion of MIB headquarters, J and K struggle to first restore the latter’s memories and follow the annoyingly vague trail of breadcrumbs to the location of the Light (despite the fact that the audience has already long since guessed the twist).
Feeling less like a misguided follow up to a hit movie and more like an outright betrayal to anyone who loved the original, MIB II (or “MIIB” as the posters confusingly shouted) for all of it’s odd farcical situations and fantastically bizarre aliens of all shapes and sizes, is a film that is horribly forgettable. It’s as if the damn thing is actually neuralizing you as it goes along and as a result it’s mere 88 minute running time feels agonisingly long. But the most irritating thing about it is that for all it’s invention and abject craziness, it feels it’s trying way too hard to wow us with it’s visuals instead of targeting the heart, like the original did.
The scale and imaginative design of the aliens (once again courtesy of FX maestro Rick Baker) are still stunning, although the delicate balance the original found between broad comedy and the various surrealistic images is way off, simply parading out a string of weirdness for weirdness sake. Johnny Knoxville’s digitally manipulated two-headed alien henchman (henchmen?) hurts the brain to look at and is woefully unfunny. Similarly, the movie’s big bad Serleena, a tentacled beastie wrapped in the body of an underwear model is impressively unthreatening and threateningly unimpressive and her introduction – essentially a joke about her being bulimic after scoffing down a mugger – is awkwardly handled for a family film.
In fact a LOT of the weirdness is severely out of whack and is often more stupid than impressive. Compare the alien birthing scene from the original for example – in one skit it contained slapstick, gross out humor, an unbearably cute squid baby and an underplayed killer of a punchline (“Anything about that seem weird to you?”) all compacted into about three minutes. Here, we get an alien with a dangling set of bollocks hanging off his face and we find out his species is that of a “Ballchinian”. Hilarious.
Leads Smith and Jones try to do what they can with a plot that flips the status quo so that K is now the rookie and J is the senior agent and while Smith can motormouth with the best of them and Jones still has the best, unyielding, steely glare in the business, neither can disguise the fact that despite a few alterations, it’s pretty much the same jokes based on someone seeing aliens for the first time.
Speaking of money for old rope, giving successful side characters Frank The Pug and the Worm Guys enhanced roles may have been a good idea at the time (in Frank’s case, it really wasn’t) but did we really need to shoehorn Tony Shaloob’s head-regenerating huckster back in there just to blow off his skull again?
It’s actually getting tough to come up with more material for this review (and considering it contains a moment where Dawson plays twister with a bunch of worm aliens, that’s actually saying a lot) but every now and then the planets align for director Barry Sonnefeld and co. to actually knock a good joke out of the park (the race of aliens living in a locker in Grand Central Station who worship K as a God is a pretty funny bit) but then that’s usually smothered to death by the having very next scene feature Rip Torn do some ludicrous wire fighting or a tremendously unsubtle Michael Jackson cameo.
Maybe they waited too long to pull this whole thing together (five years is a long time for an audience to give a shit between movies – but that’s nothing compared to the TEN year gap between 2 and 3), or maybe there’s only one legitimately great film to made from this concept; don’t forget, there’s also only been one great Ghostbusters movie to date too so maybe this theory might actually holds some water…
Bloated, but short, stuffed with visual pizzazz, yet utterly forgettable; MIB II is many things but somehow all amounts to a great big spectacular pile of nothing and it’s a good thing that their agents come complete with black suits because this things is as enjoyable as a funeral…
Least Will Simth’s song is good though…