Terrible 2’s Reviews: Men in Black 2
*Some people may say that most films lose their way by a third sequel, but that isn’t always the case. For every “Wrath of Khan” or “Toy Story 2,” there’s a dozen ‘number 2’ films that were made, that could not uphold the energy and enthusiasm of the first film. This review section, aims to talk about these “Terrible 2’s”*
I’ll come right out front and say what’s been on my mind since the Summer of 1997: Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black was a good film, just not a great one. It had its moments, but this special effects-filled film didn’t fill me with the kind of wonder and amazement as many in the 1990’s.
Even so, it became the highest grossing film of that summer, beating out Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park (which will also be coming down the pike).
The first film told the story of a hot-headed NYPD officer (played by Will Smith), who is soon recruited by a top secret organization that attempts to hide traces of extra-terrestrials living among us. Smith’s character is handpicked by veteran MIB Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), given the name “Agent J,” and is soon on his way. However, the two are soon caught up in a plot that could mean the end of our world, and a war between others in the galaxy.
The first Men in Black was almost like Jurassic Park in how it was executed with visual effects: Though there would be use of that wonderful new CGI technology (courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic), the film would also contain some great physical makeup and creature effects from the likes of Rick Baker. In fact, the films makeup effects would win it several accolades come awards season.
By the end of the film, Will Smith’s Agent J realizes that there’s a reason why his partner recruited him.
Back in the 1960’s, K was a normal young man who was on his way to see his girlfriend, but on his way there, he ended up getting into a meeting with an alien, and some of MIB’s first agents. K soon found himself becoming a member of the group, and left his civilian life behind…but not quite. K had been pining for his lost love for years, and with him feeling that J would be a suitable replacement, he wishes to return to the life of an ordinary man.
And with that, K was neuralyzed, with a happy ending showing he ended up with the woman he loved. Meanwhile, J seemed to have acclimated well to taking his former partner’s place, and with the help of a morgue-assistant-turned agent named “Agent L” (played by Linda Fiorentino), everything seemed to be coming up roses.
That was, until the Summer of 2002.
There are some types of films that I refer to as “The traitorous best friend.” This can be seen as how the first film makes you feel comfortable, and it seems you and the film have a good rapport. But, when the second film comes out, one finds that good will and friendship was all for naught, and the sequel ends up stealing your wallet, and throwing you under a bus.
That to me, is what happened with Men in Black 2.
From everything that was outlined in the ending of the first film, it felt like there was ample room to move on, and do something new. But somewhere, some high-powered studio exec must have written in huge bold letters on early script drafts:
“Bring back Tommy Lee Jones!”
And thus, that becomes the plot of this sequel.
At the start of the second film, we see that things are not going so well for Agent J. Apparently, Agent L (never seen in this film!) couldn’t handle being an MIB agent, and as such, was neuralyzed, and sent back to her job at the morgue (rather convenient).
Since then, J has been trying to find a replacement, but none are living up to his expectations. It is soon after that MIB Chief Z (Rip Torn) finds out that an alien shapeshifter named Serleena (played by Lara Flynn Boyle) has come to Earth, seeking a power source called “The Light of Zartha.” Z then informs J that only his “best man” ever knew of the Light’s secret location…and he was neuralyzed 5 years ago.
And that to me is really where much of the film’s premise stalls. The end of the first film made you think the world of these characters was going to expand out, and maybe we’d meet some more agents around MIB. But instead, we go back to the old partner dynamic. Forget that J seems to have made his own way within MIB, he needs to go back to being second-banana to K.
When one looks over the film, it could be the equivalent of what happens to quite a few sequels that try to outdo their predecessors. Some of the cinematic crimes this sequel pulls:
Unraveling all the endings in the first film – If there is such a thing as a ‘cinematic crime’ regarding this film, this to me is its biggest offense. However, it wasn’t so much that we lost characters like Linda Fiorentino’s “Agent L,” as what the script basically did to the character of Agent K.
Basically, happily-ever-after wasn’t good enough for the filmmakers, and it turned out that even with his MIB career wiped clean from his mind, K still was obsessed with the stars. And with that, the girl he (thought he) loved left him, and K ended up going to work in a Massachusetts Postal Office. As well, it is implied that he may have had several relationships with other women during his time with the MIB’s.
Familiar characters given a lot more useless stuff to do– in the first film, some of the most interesting characters just had a small amount of screentime, from the spindly Worm Guys, to the talkative Frank the Pug. Here, their roles have been expanded, but seem to do nothing but add extra filler. Frank is even made J’s temporary sidekick (aka “Agent F”), but provides little but throwaway one-liners. Tony Shalhoub as the shady pawnshop owner Jeebs makes a return, but even his role feels shoehorned into the plot.
Cameos up the wazoo – I don’t know why it is, but some films seem to develop a habit that once they are popular, they need to start chocking their film full of celebrity cameos. Sure, it’s good for a little chuckle when you see the likes of Martha Stewart and Michael Jackson in a film, but it doesn’t add anything except a few extra minutes to the film.
An over-abundance of computer-generated imagery – The first Men in Black utilized computer-generated imagery, but in a more subdued way, with much of the effects done through practical means. With this sequel, CGI is overly-abundant, from Serleena’s plant-like nature, to numerous other aliens. It’s not enough you get Johnny Knoxville as an obnoxious extra-terrestrial, but he’s got a smaller appendage with a miniature Knoxville head CG’ed onto it. There’s plenty to complain about, but that’s as far as I’ll go.
Over-abundance of product placement/tie-ins – The first film is not exempt from this (the agents sport Ray-Ban sunglasses, after all), but I’m sure someone at Sony probably was quick to bring aboard numerous companies to hawk their wares on the big screen for the sequel. We see everything from a Sprint phone store, to numerous plugs for Burger King. As well, we get a close-up shot of several cans of Mountain Dew, and see that MIB HQ has a bigger budget than we thought, as J drives around in a Mercedes-Benz. There’s also a subtle throwout to the Sony Playstation, when the controls for the MIB vehicle in flight mode, are designed off of a Playstation 2 controller. It probably took a lot of courage to just keep Will from pulling off his shades and saying to the audience, “just buy these!”
The film’s performance during the summer of 2002 wasn’t as big as some had hoped for. It’s hard to gauge just what happened, but you could probably make a case that the summer’s box-office thunder was largely stolen by 2002’s Spider-Man, which ended up trouncing almost all comers at the theaters.
MIB 2‘s totals bucked the trends of most popular sequels, in that it fell short of reaching the same heights as the first film in total receipts, both domestically, and internationally.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld’s career was never at a higher peak than during the 90’s. That was when the Director of Photography – turned – Director was really in demand. His name was attached from everything to The Addams Family, to Wild Wild West. In fact, if not for West, one assumes we could have had MIB 2 at that time (I’m sure many of us would have at least felt better leaving the theater in 1999 after seeing MIB 2, than Wild Wild West).
Men In Black 2 is a film that’s always stuck in the back of my head as a messed-up sequel, and not even a third film 7 years later could redeem the series in my eyes (it doesn’t say much when your third film ignores even more history, let alone sidelines Tommy Lee Jones for 5/6 of the entire film!). Though one can most likely assume that after the third film, there are no plans for a Men in Black 4.…well, one can hope.