Men in Black II

Critics have more or less pounded Men in Black II. A lot of my friends have also told me they thought it sucks. I didn’t, but I might as well admit up front that I seem to be in the minority opinion. In this review I’ll address a few of their arguments against the film, but just so you know, gentle reader, I am not on the bandwagon with this one. If you’re one of those people who believe the majority opinion dictates truth, then caveat emptor.

Men in Black II’s basic premise is one so obvious I actually thought of it myself just after seeing the original: Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) has to be brought back in for some reason or another, and they use a “deneuralizer” to give him his memory back. As it turns out, the reason K has to be brought back in is that an evil alien called Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle) is after “The Light of Zartha,” an object that was supposedly sent away from Earth twenty years earier. But Serleena comes looking for it, killing innocent bystander aliens in the process, and the last agent who saw the thing was K.

Thus, Agent J (Will Smith) is sent to get his old partner back. J’s been having a tough time of it, deneuralizing one inadequate partner after another. He’s also become the top agent at MiB over the last five years. K, meanwhile, is now the postmaster of Truro, Massachusetts, blissfully ignorant that he works with a staff composed entirely of aliens. J soon whisks K back into service as a man in black.

Personally, I wasn’t expecting MIB2 to be one of those sequels that improves upon the first one. Men in Black was based on a number of jokes that were amusingly original in the first film but couldn’t possibly be as funny in a sequel, once you knew them. And the very fact that the film had a plot I myself had concocted gave me the impression that the filmmakers (including returning director Barry Sonnenfeld) weren’t bending over backward to try and reinvent the franchise. That said, what I did go in hoping for was a good time, and I think I got that. This is no Godfather II, nor is it a Ghostbusters II or a Batman and Robin. I’d probably rate it as a Batman Forever – not a great film, but entertaining with some good performances.

I was a little dismayed to see Smith phone in a performance, but I think I can understand why – audiences basically ignored his two-year-in-the-making tour-de-force, Ali. But, as Smith doubtlessly knew would happen, they’re flocking to see him get beat up by worms and act with pugs in Men in Black II. The message is essentially, “we don’t take you seriously unless you’re fighting aliens or making fun of rich people. No drama!” Other than Six Degrees of Separation and Ali, Smith has usually listened to this message, but still – I choose to forgive his somewhat lackluster performance here based on those grounds.

Jones, on the other hand, hasn’t done much recently, so why is he so low-key? It’s possible that he’s simply giving the same Joe Friday performance he gave in the first film, but Smith’s lower voltage weakens the contrast between J and K.

Rounding out the cast are Rip Torn, reprising his role as chief agent Zed, Rosario Dawson as a witness to an alien murder, and Boyle as Serleena. Oh, and Johnny Knoxville plays some evil alien too. There’s nothing particularly notable about their performances, though Boyle gets to make a wicked reference to her perception as a too-thin waif.

And lest we forget, there is Frank the Pug, who steals nearly every scene he’s in. Love that dog.

I think what bothered me the most about the film was the editing. Some shots and jokes just seemed to be slapped together at random. The story, as mentioned above, is fairly by-the-numbers – it’s almost something I’d expect to see on the short-lived MIB cartoon a few years back.

BUT…it was a fun movie. I enjoyed it. At 88 minutes long, you’ll hardly notice the time go by. But, unlike the first film, I’ll admit you probably won’t miss anything by renting this one rather than spending $8 to see it.

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