Men In Black II
Men in Black II is the perfect sequel specimen for dissection purposes. Why? Because it is born from a phenomenal and successful piece of work (successful being the key ingredient) and feeds off the bright lingering aura of its source material; yet MIB II, like any not completely satisfying sequel, preys on our inability to resist revisiting the (less flamboyant) dynamic duo, J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones), and ultimately takes advantage of our devotion. We are treated like those starry eyed witnesses who after being zapped with the neuralizing stick are told what to think, where to go, and how to be. In this case we are told to think that everything Will Smith says is funny (it’s really like 60%) and every reference to MIB I (1997) is a burst of sweet nostalgia. We are told to go to our local Cineplex Odeon and make the movie the biggest July 4th weekend opening of all time (check). Finally, we are asked to relax, suspend all belief and watch the mindless madness of the intergalactic adventure unfold in a dazzling display of can-you-top-this special effects. And like those naïve, average, befuddled individuals with blank stares, we obey. The hook drops into the water and we race toward it, craving the steel stinger to pierce our excited, straining throats. The only real victor on the lake is the fisherman who reeled in the catch of the day. Lets let innovative director Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family, Get Shorty) represent the fisherman even though he is merely a pawn for Columbia Pictures. To him goes the money, the trophy, bragging rights, and the championship belt. We get the big juicy worm – in this case the worm’s name is Jeff, and he is enormous.
To no real fault of the movie itself, MIB II is weakened simply because it stands in the shadow of its older sibling. Can we really blame Candace Cameron for not being as cute and talented as Kirk? Not really, but it sure is disappointing anyway. The problem is that MIB I took great joy in the setup and we had the privilege to watch. Along with James Darrel Edwards III (later Agent J), we uncovered with wonder the “real” world spinning a layer beneath the one that we find some comfort in.
Some things did start to make peculiar sense to us at that time: Rabbi Slutsky could be better understood if he were an alien. That would explain the tremendous yellow/green stains circling his armpits, and the fact that recess was only ten minutes on rainy days, and all those “bathroom” breaks he took during class. It would also explain why students who went to his house for Shabbos came back to school on Monday with full body rashes.
Anyhow, the beauty of the first in a series is…it being exactly that, the first. By the time this sequel roles around, we already know the abrasively cool Zed (Rip Torn) and are aware of the talking dog Frank (given a heftier comic role this time), we are familiar with the noisy cricket, the caffeine loving bugs, and the nervous shop owner Jeebs – you’ll even know beforehand exactly when his head is about to get blown off. The movie brings back all these interesting entities, and while I could never call such bizarre creations stale or tired, I came to the theatre to be treated to something original or, as J would say, “the new hotness”.
The new material includes villainess Serleena played in underwear with campy deviousness by Lara Flynn Boyle (but again, pales in comparison to the marvelous performance by Vincent D’Onofrio as the invertebrate in human skin in MIB I), A two-headed bumbling sidekick (Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame), and the aforementioned Jeff doing some damage in the subway system. Rosario Dawson is the love interest who gets very little screen time but makes the most of it and her character supplies the single provocative twist. The best edition to the MIB mythology is an entire civilization of miniscule beings that exist in a train station locker and worship a watch. While not wanting to sound gullible, the first film had a certain convincing charm about it and truly established the humanity of secondary characters (I’m thinking specifically of Linda Fiorentino’s Agent L who is missed here). MIB I never wanted you to take it seriously, however we were obliged to “believe” in it whatever the subtle difference between the two are.
Men in Black II could care less whether you believe in it or not, or frankly, whether you bought the ticket and spent your time on the concession line trying to buy Goobers. One clear indication of this is that the movie takes place over a brisk eighty minutes or so; it is the cinematic equivalent of a comet – much hype and fire and zoom, but by the time you start appreciating it, it’s gone. How about the fact that (and I can’t be the only one who noticed this) David Cross who played the morgue security guard in the first film and was killed and attached to the ceiling by bug mucus, is alive and well as a completely different character in the sequel. That kind of thing bothers me because I do want to believe in the movie I’m watching however fantastic the story is. The third upsetting aspect of the film is where at times, the over-the-topness tries to top itself. Best case in point: K is battling an alien thug and proceeds to kick this creature multiple times in the crotch to no affect. J, watching, advises K that he is mistaken in targeting the blows below the belt considering that this particular foe is a “Ballchinian”. K then lowers his adversary’s turtleneck to reveal a scrotum hanging from the gentleman’s face and inflicts a knockout punch. Undoubtedly funny and surprisingly so, but this isn’t The Naked Gun. There is a fine line between farce and frenetic but witty comedy and Men in Black II confuses the line a number of times. It appears as though the film was made in a rush (someone’s bank account may have dipped below $10,000,000) and so every idea thrown at the wall was used. The plot is one of those absurdist manifestations created to move character A to point B where they encounter character C and perform action D. Is no one struck by the stupendous coincidence that Serleena comes to Earth based on a tip that the Light of Zartha (don’t worry about it) has been found and it just so happens to be 24 hours before this same Light would explode destroying the planet? WOW! Lucky for us she showed up. At no point in the movie is there cause for alarm because everyone is in on the joke and looking to just chill. Try telling that to the fish.
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