May 27, 2020

“Men in Black II” Review: The Very Picture of an Underrated Sequel

My family’s been marathoning the Men in Black movies in the past few days, and of all four, I felt as if the original sequel was worth reviewing purely for one glaring reason: it’s highly underrated.

With unfortunately negative critical reviews and embarrassingly low ratings on aggregator sites such as Rotten Tomatoes, Men in Black II got stuck with the short end of the stick when it was given the momentous (and difficult) task of following up the hit 1997 sci-fi comedy Men in Black. The original stars and director returned, but I guess the sequel just had a hard time attempting to live up to its predecessor.

It doesn’t do that for its entire runtime, though; most of the time, it’s an independent story that stays true to the core values of the franchise (more on that in a bit). To sum up the simple plot, Agent J (Will Smith) of the secret Men in Black organization, who has consistent trouble getting along with his partners, brings back Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), the man who recruited him to the MiB, in order to defeat an evil alien queen (Lara Flynn Boyle).

Let’s start with the cons. MiB II has some outdated effects, and this probably doesn’t sound like much, considering it came out in 2002, but specifically, its effects are sometimes worse than its predecessor’s; and when a 1997 film has better visual effects than a 2002 one, you might think than its budget was slightly less (it wasn’t…MiB had $90 million, while its sequel had nearly $140 million).

The McGuffin of the story, something only referred to as ‘The Light,’ is confusing and largely unexplained by the end of the film. It can be frustrating for continuity enthusiasts: why is it going to destroy the Earth? Why was it left there in the first place? Why does the alien queen Serleena even want it? None of those questions are explained, which doesn’t exactly ruin the story, but it certainly doesn’t do it any favors.

Add a phoned-in performance by Rosario Dawson (a real shame) and a map that shows the wrong location of Truro (as a Cape Cod-ian, yes, this is what I’m nitpicking), and you get a movie that’s easy to attack and criticize. However, it’s what critics are missing that makes this movie great.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are once again the best parts of the film, with their chemistry being instantly believable, even when Agent K doesn’t remember his former life. The charm of the Men in Black movies has always been the lead character dynamics and the variety and creativity of its aliens, and MiB II has plenty, more than enough to forgive the movie.

Men in Black II is at its best when it distinguishes itself from the first film. The villain is one-sided, sure, but she fulfills her story purpose; in the end, there’s a surprising amount of payoff, and the movie is certainly not even close to as bad as the internet makes it out to be. If you enjoyed the first film way back when, I’d give the sequel another shot. I guarantee you it’s not as bad as you remember. [Grade: A-]

Barry Sonnenfeld
Writers: Robert Gordon and Barry Fanaro
Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Lara Flynn Boyle, Rosario Dawson, Rip Torn
Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some provocative humor
Available: On Demand
Fun Fact: Fire Island Lighthouse, New York, serves as a stand-in for the Truro, Massachusetts, Post Office. They didn’t even use the real Truro! This series is not fair to Cape Cod…

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