Case Number 23771

MEN IN BLACK II (BLU-RAY)

Sony // 2002 // 88 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // May 4th, 2012

The Charge

Same planet, new scum.

Opening Statement

Director Barry Sonnenfeld's Men in Black was an enormous hit in the summer of 1997. Based on a rather obscure comic book of the same name, the sci-fi/action/comedy featured Will Smith -- riding high on the previous summer's blockbuster Independence Day -- and Tommy Lee Jones (also a shining star with his Oscar win for The Fugitive) as alien hunting, suit wearing, super secret spies. Inevitably, a sequel followed. In 2002, movie fans were treated to Men in Black II, now available on Blu-ray care of Sony Home Entertainment.

Facts of the Case

At the end of the original, MIB agents Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) and Jay (Will Smith) save the earth from a giant cockroach before Kay has his memory erased and is assimilated back into normal civilian life. All's well that ends well, until yet another alien threat arrives in the form of Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle, Twin Peaks), a snake-like plant creature that takes on the form of a Victoria's Secret supermodel. Serleena is looking for the Light of Zartha (the film's "MacGuffin") which will be used to rule the galaxy...or something. Only one person knows where the Light of Zartha is: Agent Kay. Unfortunately, he has no recollection of his time at MIB. Jay's mission is to find Kay, retrofit him with his previous memories, find the Light of Zartha, and save the planet before the human race becomes an intergalactic bonfire.

The Evidence

I am an unabashed Barry Sonnenfeld fan. Although the director's films have been hit-or-miss with mass audiences, I've found something to admire or enjoy in every one of his pictures. Sonnenfeld's biggest hits are often airy popcorn fare the masses eat up (e.g. The Addams Family). Some of the director's best work is woefully under-appreciated, including the hysterical follow-up Addams Family Values. I've even become a fan of Sonnenfeld's bombs, including the much maligned Wild Wild West (also starring Will Smith) and the Robin Williams family vehicle RV (pun intended). While not always successful, Sonnenfeld's films feature a keen sense of the absurd.

It had been many years since I'd seen Men in Black II, and while not half as good as the original, I remember enjoying it quite a bit. Sadly, time has not been as kind to this lackluster sequel. What seemed fresh and funny ten years ago now feels forced and stale. In fact, as I sat there watching, the thought that kept running through my mind was, "this is a total cash grab." It really feels like the studio wanted to make a follow-up to their hit, just to mint more money. Profits were generated, but not without a price: story and character.

Men in Black II has its moments, but they are few and far between. Smith's Jay lacks the freshness he showed in the original; his delivery is professional, but is given little to do other than bark orders at MIB agents (including Seinfeld's Patrick Warburton) and react to all the craziness around him. Faring better is Tommy Lee Jones, whose deadpan comedic skills are the highlight these films. Jones is able to extract a laugh just by offering the camera a tepid hangdog expression. Although Smith is an integral part of the series, a small part of me wishes someone would make a Men in Black movie and just use Jones as the main character. He's that good.

The supporting cast flits in and out pretty fast. A fresh faced Rosario Dawson, as pizza girl Laura (Clerks II), is set up as Smith's love interest, but that storyline fizzles out quickly. Some former cast members show up briefly, but to diminished effect. Tony Shalhoub (Monk) returns as the grotesque Jeebs, once again getting his head blown off by a grumpy Kay (and providing a high point in the film). Gravel voiced Rip Torn (Defending Your Life) as MIB Chief Zed offers up a few amusing one liners but isn't given enough screen time to do anything else. Speaking of screen time, the tough talking pug dog Frank (voiced by Tim Blaney) is featured far too long, and that character just isn't funny. Finally, a cameo by the late Michael Jackson as a wannabe MIB agent now just seems desperate, sad, and creepy.

Movies like Men in Black II rise and fall on the shoulders of its villains. Lara Flynn Boyle's Serleena makes for a mildly formidable foe, though she can't hold a candle to Vincent D'Onofrio's goofy and vile intergalactic cockroach "in an Edgar suit." I like Serleena's design (sort of a cross between a Venus Flytrap and a bag of water moccasins), but the character isn't threatening or compelling. Even less impressive is Jackass ringleader Johnny Knoxville as Scrad/Charlie, a two headed weirdo whose F/X appear 90% complete.

Although it sounds like Men in Black II is a terrible movie, it's really not; just a misguided one, filled with a ton of missed opportunities. There are things to enjoy, including some comedic beats only Sonnenfeld could create. Makeup master Rick Baker's bizarre alien creations are often a lot of fun as well. The biggest issue with Men in Black II is that it suffers from being a sequel. Let's just hope 2012's Men in Black III proves a worthier successor.

Presented in 1.85:1/1080p high definition widescreen in 1080p high definition, we have to give credit where credit is due: Men in Black II looks absolutely fantastic on Blu-ray. The colors are strikingly vibrant and practically pop off the screen. Black levels are deep and dark, the image being nearly crystal clear without a hint of defect. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is also excellent, featuring tremendous action and ambient effects, especially during the film's final showdown. Anyone with a home theater surround system will find their speakers getting a heavy workout from this lossless mix. Also included are Dolby 5.1 mixes in French, Spanish, and Portuguese as well as English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese subtitles.

All of the bonus features on Men in Black II (Blu-ray) are ported over from the 2002 Special Edition DVD: a commentary from director Barry Sonnenfeld, alternate ending, blooper reel, some behind-the-scenes featurettes ("MIIB: ADR," "Design in Motion: The look of Men In Black II," "Rick Baker: Alien Maker," "Squish, Splat, Sploosh: The Stellar Sounds of MIB II," "Cosmic Symphonies: Elfman in Space," "Barry Sonnenfeld's Intergalactic Guide to Comedy"), a group of featurettes on the creature effects ("Frank the Pug," "Scrad/Charlie," "The Worms," "Alien Esoterica," "Jeebs," "Jarra," and "Jeff the Worm"), an animatic sequence, some multi-angle scene deconstructions, a music video by Will Smith ("Black Suits Comin'"), some B- Live features, and a bonus UltraViolet digital copy of the film.

Closing Statement

This is just more of the same, only not as funny or fresh. Though innocuously harmless entertainment, and Sony's upgrade commendable, Men in Black II won't stand the test of time as great filmmaking.

The Verdict

Guilty of harboring space junk.

Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 97
Audio: 96
Extras: 90
Acting: 77
Story: 65
Judgment: 73

Perp Profile
Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* French
* Portuguese
* Spanish

Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary
* Alternate Ending
* Featurettes
* Blooper Reel
* Animatic
* BD-Live
* Digital Copy

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0120912/combined