With the original Men in Black such a roaring success both commercially and critically it was only a matter of time until a sequel hit the screens and that matter of time was five years. Men in Black II, released in 2002 reunited director Barry Sonnenfeld and lead actors Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as agents J and K, members of the secret agency known as The Men in Black. While still a commercial success, it only took $440m as opposed to the original’s haul of over $500m.
Five years after the events of Men in Black, agent J (Smith) is having trouble finding a new partner as his previous partner L decided to go back to her previous life. While investigating a routine assignment, he discovers a plan by the alien Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle) to get hold of something called the ‘light of Zartha.’ Confused, J seeks out his old neurolyzed partner K (Jones) as he believes him to be the only man who can help.
The main problem with Men in Black II is its comedy. The first was slick and cool and the humour was born out of the exchanges between straight man Jones and motor-mouth Smith, in this the filmmaking team appear to be trying very hard to make an out-and-out comedy and as everyone knows, there’s nothing less funny than someone trying to be obviously funny. Men in Black II has expanded roles for characters like Frank the Pug and the ˜worm guys.’ They worked as cameos in the first one, but giving them bigger parts exposes how desperately unfunny and rather annoying they actually are.
Sonnenfeld, who has proven his ability to direct non-comedians in comic roles (Anjelica Huston as the Queen of deadpan Morticia Addams for example) yet he seems so desperate to make the audience laugh, he’s forgotten to include the laid-back cool of the original. His choice of villains to threaten the heroes in Men in Black II is also misjudged with Lara Flynn Boyle and Johnny Knoxville paling in comparison to Vincent D’Onofrio.
The design of Men in Black II should be praised however, with spaceships and environments looking slick and polished, while Rick Baker’s tremendous work on the alien design is a real highlight. One of Hollywood’s unsung heroes, Baker brings the same quality of makeup and design to Men in Black II as he did on The Exorcist and An American Werewolf in London. the aliens are realistic in style, while still maintaining a completely other-worldly feel. It really is a testament to Baker’s craft quality that the overwhelming disappointment of the narrative is briefly forgotten when one of his creations appears on screen.
With a rushed narrative, lack of cohesion and disappointing villains Men in Black II is cliched Hollywood sequel where more ‘comedy’ and more ‘action’ does not mean, more enjoyment. Luckily, like the original its running time is short and so the disappointment doesn’t last that long. And neither does memory of the film.