I have a belief that every film can be summed up in a single well-chosen adjective if you try hard enough. Fortunately, when it comes to Men in Black II, you don’t have to try hard. It’s more a matter of which word really sums it up. “Uninspired,” perhaps? “Feeble” and “amateurish” would also be good choices. But when we get right down to it, the word you’re looking for is “insulting.”
It’s common knowledge that sequels are generally worse than the original movie. Even allowing for a quality dropoff between installments, though, MiBII still fails to live up to expectations. For many years, I clung to the hope that this film would kill off the franchise. Amazingly, it did not. But I promise you it wasn’t for lack of effort. It’s almost as if Robert Gordon, Barry Fanaro, and the additional raft of uncredited writers who did polishing duty on this turd spent weeks taking careful note of everything that made the original film so popular and fun, just so they would have an exhaustive bible to consult when doing the exact opposite.
Will Smith acts the same here as he did in the previous film. We see no real character growth with Agent J. He still acts mostly like a rookie. This film might as well take place five minutes after the conclusion of Men in Black, instead of five years. All the things he’s presumably seen haven’t really changed him; the only difference is that now he has a junior partner to drive crazy with his shenanigans instead of a senior partner. Speaking of which…
Whose stupid idea was it to team Will Smith up with a pug? Frank the Pug was one of the best-remembered characters from the previous movie, an alien in a dog’s body. He was only onscreen for a few minutes, but he stole his scene. So he’s back here, apparently because somebody thought what was funny at three minutes would be hilarious when stretched out to feature length. They were wrong. Frank proves to be annoying. Someone forgot to tell the writers that a talking dog still needs funny things to say in order to be funny. Dressing him up in a little suit and having him threaten to bite people in the crotch doesn’t cut it. And he probably shouldn’t sing. I’m not sure which was worse, Frank singing “I Will Survive” or barking along to “Who Let the Dogs Out?” The first one had longer to offend the mind, but the second carried more pain per second.
Why are we bringing Tommy Lee Jones back? Agent K had a perfectly satisfying conclusion to his story at the end of the previous film. After thirty-five years as an MiB agent, he was neuralyzed so he could resume his life and reunite with the woman he loved. Yet instead of trusting that they could tell a perfectly satisfying story with J and a new partner, or even J alone, the brain trust behind this masterpiece decided to bring back K. In the first few minutes that we see him, the writers manage to ruin the wonderful and appropriate finish of the previous film by showing K as a postal employee whose love – the woman he pined for lo those many years – has left him. Jones should have refused to do the film immediately on reading that. I should have stopped watching the film immediately on seeing that. Alas for the pair of us, we’re creatures of duty.
Suddenly K has become the single most important person in the universe. Ever. Previously K had been a senior agent for MiB. He’d seen it all, done it all, and knew it all. But we never received any indication that anyone at the agency regarded him as anything like “the greatest of all time.” Now K has attained near-legendary status. Anyone who knows him, or knows of him, won’t shut up about him. Even Frank talks him up in one of the most clumsy lines of expository dialogue I’ve ever heard. Granted, K is very important to the particular case being worked on at the moment, but any senior MiB agent would surely have had a case or two like that. Who died and made him Elvis?
How is it possible to deneuralyze someone? The previous movie established that you could neuralyze a person and remove a percentage of their memory. Now apparently all those memories are recoverable. This would be ridiculous enough on its own. Yet it gets weirder. Apparently memory is only recoverable to the previous “save point,” so to speak. The equipment exists to undo the neuralyzation that K underwent five years ago, to the point where he has basically all his memories from his years in the MiB. Yet it can’t recover his memories relating to this case, because he previously neuralyzed himself to eliminate them. Therefore he has to follow a set of clues he set up just in case this particular problem ever reared its head again. How…convenient all of this is.
When did use of the neuralyzer become so prevalent? The previous movie established that use of the neuralyzer was a common procedure to erase the memories of anywhere from one person to a small crowd. Yet even given that, neuralyzer use is excessive here. J has flashed so many of his partners that the movie sees fit to make a joke about it. The man who was worried about repetitive use of the neuralyzer on people twice – twice! – has to flash a crowd of people multiple times because he gets too carried away with his cover story. Speaking of cover stories, one wonders how MiB will provide one to the entire population of New York City, all of whom get flashed by a hidden neuralyzer inside the Statue of Liberty’s torch at the end of the movie. Gosh, I sure hope no one was operating heavy machinery when they had their memories erased. If they were, it’s a safe bet that K caused thousands of car crashes, and possibly hundreds of fatalities, in a blink of an eye all across the five boroughs. I also hope the neuralyzer was carefully calibrated. If not, K might have just taken years out of the collective life of New York City. But hey, anything for a coverup, right, gentlemen?
Too many characters get brought back with little purpose. Rip Torn is back as Zed, which was nice. But we didn’t need Tony Shalhoub back as Jeebs. I’ve already spoken about Frank and K. And did we really need to see the worms again? If you’re using these characters as plot devices instead of characters, they shouldn’t be there.
The movie tries to duplicate previous highlights with little success. I’ll just mention two here, and then I’ll stop. Will Smith’s shtick is much less funny here than it was in the previous movie. (In fairness to Smith, the humor overall is far less funny, but even he would have to admit that his brand sticks out.) And Men in Black II actually tries to duplicate the stinger ending of its predecessor…the difference being that this one is much more stupid.
I could go on and talk about all the problems with J not neuralyzing Laura, including the ones the movie doesn’t point out. Or I could talk about why Johnny Knoxville’s character could be cut out with no harm whatsoever to the movie. And the ending is always good fodder for discussion, as the movie raises a number of fascinating implications and potentially important ideas in the last ten minutes (none of which were set up earlier), only to give all of them short shrift. But I won’t. I’m sick of talking about this movie. Men in Black II is, as I implied earlier, insulting to the viewer. I will not let it contaminate my blog any further.
And so, we’re done.