Marvel Movie Madness! Part 27: Men in Black II

Does the series go out Big Willie Style?

by | July 8, 2011 | Comments

Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.

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Part 27: Men in Black II (2003, 39% @ 290 reviews)

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Rip Torn, Rosario Dawson

Luke: Like “Who Let the Dogs Out?”, the word “bangin'” and Lara Flynn Boyle — apparent cultural touchstones of turn-of-the-century America — I forgot this belated sequel even existed. Which is understandable, because Men in Black II is a pretty lazy follow-up to a reasonably funny hit; the kind of movie where everything that felt fresh about the first instalment is milked charmlessly — and in which a talking pug gives a more enthusiastic performance than the paycheck-cashing leads. As is the way of many inferior sequels, MiBII is content to recycle the basic plot — again, the agency must stop an intergalactic menace– “psycho hose beast” herself Lara Flynn Boyle as tentacled alien Surleena — while regurgitating gags and set pieces from the original.

Things start cute enough, with a nice parody of a ’70s “search for the unknown”-style TV show hosted by Peter Graves, before reintroducing Will Smith’s Agent Jay and his new partner Puddy, er Brock Samson, or whoever it is Patrick Warburton plays here. (Where’s Linda Fiorentino, anyway?) Of course, the film needs to reunite Smith with Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), who’s still neuralyzed and working in a post office — though we now learn, conveniently, that the brain-wipe can be reversed, so Kay can unlock the memory of the diamante-universe-controlling-bracelet-or-whatever Surleena is searching for. It takes so long for Jones to reawaken as Kay that you begin to wonder if the actor had that written into his contract so he didn’t have to put any effort in; by the time he and Smith are back together he seems about as interested in his role as what time the next lunch break is. Not that I blame him, when Smith — who’s smugger than ever here — actually interrupts him at one point and suggests that he “Tell it to the hand.” In 2002. So much for the chemistry.

By mid-way I was tuned out and simply watching for oddities — Johnny Knoxville plays a two-headed alien minion; Martha Stewart drops by; and Michael Jackson has an awkward cameo as an alien agent (presumably director Sonnenfeld was atoning for the joke Wednesday makes in Addams Family Values.) Oh, and if you thought Smith’s self-satisfied “Men in Black” was suspect, try and get through the end credits track, “Black Suits Comin’ (Nod Ya Head)”.
MiBIII? As Big Willie Style would say (no cursing), “Hell naw.”

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Ryan: Unfortunately, I’m completely with you, Luke. I say “unfortunately” because I don’t remember actively disliking this movie when I first saw it, so when I sat down to rewatch it with its reputation in mind, I fully expected to come out of it defending at least one or two aspects of an overall mediocre movie. It was definitely worse than I remembered.

You’re absolutely right in using the word “lazy” to describe this film. The sight gags are way obvious (Getting “flushed?” “Ballchinian?” Really?), the plotline is completely recycled, the product placement is so blatant it’s jarring, and much of the humor strikes out (How much mileage did they honestly think they were going to get out of jokes about Frank the pug being a pug, or Johnny Knoxville talking to himself?). Speaking of Johnny Knoxville, what happened to him and the other henchmen at the end of the movie? After barging into the worms’ hideout to kidnap Rosario Dawson, they just sort of disappear from the story altogether. Somewhere out there is a man with testicles hanging from his face, running loose and, I don’t know, threatening to sweat on people.

It’s really disappointing, because after the first film you got the sense that, if the people involved played their cards right, they could have had a quality franchise on their hands. In the end, it still made a lot of money, but based on the effort put forth in MiBII, it’s no surprise it took a decade for anyone to brave a third installment.


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