Men In Black II
October 27, 2003
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Lara Flynn Boyle, Johnny Knoxville, Rip Torn, Tony Shalhoub, Patrick Warburton, Jack Kehler, David Cross, Colombe Jacobsen-Derstine, ,
The 1997 Barry Sonnenfeld movie Men in Black was something of a surprise hit. With its dark Batman-esque looks and quirky comedy it became one of the biggest grossing films of the year and won a legion of fans. The fact that it wasn’t actually very good seemed neither here nor there.
MIB had all of the ideas, it had the effects and it had the energy from the cast. What it didn’t have however was a tight script and cohesive plot. It didn’t achieve its potential – despite having all of the ingredients to become a sci-fi classic. Nevertheless it was a success and there was instant talk of a sequel – though neither Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones were willing to commit to the project fearing a cheap cash in. It’s funny that they should grow some artistic integrity at such a late stage. A sequel was inevitable however, the surprise being that it took so long to arrive.
When MIIB – as it’s known – arrived in 2002 it was mauled by the critics claiming that it finished off the promising Men in Black franchise and that it was a pale imitation to the original. What MIIB was however, was a faster moving tighter plotted film than the first one. Sure MIIB is no great piece of film making, but then MIB wasn’t exactly a contender for the top ten sci-fi films ever made.
MIIB opens with a 1950’s B-movie style intro which apes the style of ‘Amazing Stories’ magazine explaining how the men in black saved the earth from invading aliens by sending ‘the light’ back into space. Dramatised in an Ed Wood manner this section shows dodgy alien costumes and cardboard space ships – setting the whole film up as a self referential comedy. The alien leaves vowing to destroy the universe in its search for the light.
The easily recognisable music of Danny Elfman kicks in as we follow a space craft searching the galaxy for the light and destroying every planet that it passes. This intro sequence is far more enjoyable and less self indulgent than the overlong intro to MIB that saw a gnat like creature flying along the road. This seems to be the way of things with the two films; MIB had the ideas and originality but dragged on too long and lacked a guiding hand, MIIB lacks originality but condenses its scenes down to an enjoyably fast pace.
The aforementioned ship lands in Manhattan, because of course that’s where all alien activity takes place – by ‘protecting Earth from the worst scum of the universe’ they really mean ‘protecting New York’. We’re treated to our first visual gag as it lands – the space ship that has been destroying planets throughout the galaxy and has now turned its attention to Earth is in fact, no bigger than an action man.
A creature looking not unlike a sperm drops out and proceeds to grow into some kind of shrub. In a sequence very similar to – no in fact directly ripped off from – Critters 2 the shrub spots a magazine on the floor open at the page of a lingerie model. Naturally this scantily clad model serves as the template for the alien to disguise itself. In Critters it was a porn mag and the bounty hunter in question even materialised complete with a staple across her midriff.
The shapely lingerie model, played by the aptly named Lara Flynn Boyle (mmm Lara) sets off in search of the light that, if not found by midnight the following day will atomise the planet. You’d think giving it to her would be a good idea then, but no apparently some other planet would suffer the consequences. This unimportant plot point is hardly worth dwelling on, the crux of the matter is she wants it, she can’t have it but the MIB have got to find it and get rid of it anyway.
The trouble is only one man knows where it is, agent Kay. He has left MIB, however, and has had his memory erased and now works in a post office. Agent Jay, who is rapidly running out of partners because he keeps neuralising* them all, has to bring Kay back and de-neuralise** him so that he can tell them where the light is hidden.
* Neuralising: when Will Smith makes a quip about leading a better life and uses the flashing shiny thing to wipe a person’s memory.
** De-Neuralising: when Will Smith makes a quip about how you should have lead a better life and uses a large metal chair to restore a person’s memory.
All manner of hilarity ensues as Kay distrusts the loud brash man trying to convince him that he is the most feared human in the galaxy and spent the last fifty years combating aliens.
Will Smith seems to be enjoying every moment of the film, and as we see in one of the featurettes on ADR (automatic dialogue recording) he gets the chance once again to adlib as many lines and jokes as he can. One of his best lines in the film comes as a result of the auto pilot in his car. A human actor pops up in the driving seat playing an inflatable driver as Will’s car pulls up in front of him. Tommy Lee Jones asked if it came with that as standard and Will quips in his best Fresh Prince style “nah, it came with a black man but it kept getting pulled over”.
We even get a rare thing in Hollywood movies these days, a joke about Michael Jackson that is both funny and doesn’t involve snipes about his face. This one involves what appears to be a legion of penguins and a dispute – I’ll leave you to discover it for yourself.
MIIB is eminently entertaining whilst not being really fulfilling. It’s faster paced than the first film but as a consequence suffers a little in lost character. This isn’t a film about character though; it’s about comedy and big effects, which it delivers in spades.
The popular characters of the talking dog and the worm aliens make a return from the first film, and despite coming under criticism for being over-used the worms don’t actually make an appearance until an hour in. Plus they were a big part of the MIB cartoon, so fans would expect to see them back.
Just like the first MIB, MIIB comes in a feature packed two disc set which contains a series of enjoyable to watch – and obviously enjoyable to make – featurettes on the making of the film. The main feature is the MIB orb; select from several making of features what you want to see, and in what order before playing the whole thing. It then shows you your unique making of documentary as you’ve decided to edit it. A nice gimmick that adds interactivity to something that is usually stale and stagnant.
One of the best parts of this featurette concoction is the ADR documentary, which shows director Barry Sonnenfeld coaching his very tired actors through replacing dialogue on the film. Will Smith treats this as an opportunity to gorge on Chinese food and practise his stand up, whereas Lara Flynn Boyle just professionally attempts to do her job and dodge the projectiles being thrown at her by Sonnenfeld.
A must watch feature is the bloopers reel, which ends up being very reminiscent of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s closing credit out take sequences. Most of these involve Will Smith ad-libbing, causing others to laugh uncontrollably or laughing uncontrollably himself. The sequence in the car with the autopilot looked horrendous to film as each time a difficult shot was achieved to perfection someone would collapse in hysterics.
The blue screen shots of Will Smith riding on Geoff are a hoot, and you can see how much imagination and lack of any kind of embarrassment threshold an actor requires working with a CGI monster. Geoff incidentally is fifty foot worm ripped straight out of Tremors, as opposed to a rather dry and caustically-witted chap who sits near us at GAME HQ and accuses us of playing games and generally wasting the day.
One rather pompous sounding feature is the Multi Angle Scene Deconstruction, which doesn’t involve chalk boards, lectures and talking about Brechtian distancing techniques deployed in the film but instead shows you a sequence without the effects added. Not much deconstruction there then, just a button to flip between finished and unfinished sequence.
Other conventional features include the Will Smith ego boosting music video and a very small sprinkling of movie posters that has a rather over the top menu for such a small section. I was expecting to be spending the next twenty minutes shuttling through them just like the Alien and Aliens discs, however 15 seconds later they were repeating. Oh well, c’est la vie!
MIIB is a worthwhile DVD, even if the care and attention that’s gone into the presentation and features is more than that afforded to the film. Unlike every other critic around I found it an improvement over the original, but then I didn’t think much of MIB.