I would have definitely been okay with a Men in Black sequel if the first film had taken a different direction. If it had decided to stay small and focus almost solely on small adventures involving our two main characters, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent J (Will Smith), and left the big “save the world” job for this film, it would have benefited both movies. Instead, it had to try to hammer in that very mission, which made the first film feel rushed and it makes the sequel feel like a retread.
Men in Black II also faces another problem: How can it bring Tommy Lee Jones back into the mix, after he had his memory erased at the end of the first film? Well, they do this thanks to a series of very convoluted events, none of which I’ll have a go at describing. Essentially, he did something a few decades ago that might or might not put the entire planet in jeopardy, now that a new, even more evil alien, Serleena (taking the form of Lara Flynn Boyle), has come to Earth to find a thing that was hidden here. Or maybe it’s no longer even on our planet. You’ll have to watch to find out, but I’m guessing you can already figure out whether or not it is.
It takes what feels like forever for Agent K to get back his memories, turning him back into the loveable sourpuss from the last film. So much of Men in Black worked because of the chemistry between the two leads, and because Tommy Lee Jones’ deadpan worked so well in contrast to the insanity constantly surrounding him. The filmmakers knew they couldn’t do a Men in Black film without him. It’s too bad the first film had such a definite conclusion, which caused the first half of this film to do nothing much but rectify that mistake.
Admittedly, the film becomes a lot more fun once Agent K and Agent J are back together — at full mental capacity — but because it takes so long to get to that point, the whole “save the world” plot once again feels rushed. Yes, it’s established from the beginning that this is what the characters will have to do, but because one of them doesn’t have his memory, we have to go through many of the “training” scenes from the first film again — and they don’t even have any effect on Agent K’s memory, making them pointless filler.
I truly believe that’s what they are, by the way, considering Men in Black II doesn’t even reach the 90 minute mark when it comes to running time. Brevity is something to be thankful for in a lot of films — the first only ran a touch longer than this one, but it could justify all of its scenes — but this one needed more length to make the “save the world” stuff not seem rushed. Again. Maybe director Barry Sonnenfeld, who was also at the helm for the first film, just doesn’t know how to properly pace these types of things.
Men in Black II has a sillier tone than its predecessor, which is something I wouldn’t have thought possible. The first film was funny because it was witty; this one is funny because it’s silly. It is still funny, but it’s a lot thinner in the script department. Most of the smarts have left, so don’t expect the same level of intelligence this time around.
What you can expect is a continuation of very good, creative visual effects. While there might be an over-reliance on CGI, as opposed to the mix of computer and practical effects in the earlier outing, the aliens still look great, and there are many that are interesting to simply look at. Oh, yeah, and there’s a talking dog who accompanies Agent J on a couple of missions in the film’s first half, and it manages to not look out-of-place, even if its lines are incredibly stupid.
Once again, the main strength of the film comes from its two leads. While it might initially seem like a good idea to have Tommy Lee Jones’ character oblivious to the whole “aliens exist” concept, essentially retooling him in the process, this doesn’t prove to do a whole lot with the character. Once he becomes the original Agent K, the film does pick up, and Jones and Smith continue to be a delight to watch work together.
A constant throughout the two films has been a lack of faith in the supporting cast. While the villain gets more screen time and is definitely given more lines, apart from Lara Flynn Boyle, almost all of the supporting cast could be written off as extended cameos. Names such as Rip Torn (who gets third billing for some inexplicable reason), Johnny Knoxville, Rosario Dawson and Patrick Warburton all make appearances, but most of them barely factor in, and a couple only get one or two scenes.
I feel mixed when it comes to Men in Black II. On one hand, it’s a retread of a really enjoyable movie, and it lacks the freshness of its predecessor as a result. On the other hand, seeing Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones blasting alien scum to bits with big guns is something that really doesn’t get old all that fast. It still feels rushed, and the tone has taken a turn into Sillytown, but I can’t say I was ever bored by this very brief film. The franchise still should have been handled better from the start, but if you liked Men in Black, this is more of the same, and you’ll probably have a good time.