Our review of Men in Black II (Blu-ray), published May 4th, 2012, is also available.
Like I really need to go into the history of Men In Black. A huge blockbuster during the summer of 1997, the original film went on to gross more than $500 million worldwide at the box office and became one of Columbia TriStar's biggest hits ever. Of course, on par with Hollywood's way of thinking, the eventual sequel Men In Black II was churned out in 2002 with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith returning to the roles of Agents K and J, respectively. Also on board for a second trip was director Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family, Get Shorty), Rip Torn (The Larry Sanders Show), and that little talking pug dog. Also a huge hit with moviegoers, Men In Black II makes its DVD debut care of good old Columbia TriStar in a special two-disc edition.
Facts of the Case
Agents J (Mr. Smith) and K (Mr. Jones) are back in action when a new alien life force threatens earth, leaving the defenders of the galaxy—the Men in Black—the only capable hands to deal with this new menace. J is now the top agent at MIB, but can't seem to hold down a partner (everyone deemed not worthy is eventually neuralized). When last we saw Agent K he'd also been neuralized and now works at a post office sorting mail and complaining about parcel violations. When Serleena, a morphing Kylothian alien, crash lands on earth, "it" takes the form of a sexy Victoria's Secret model (an anorexic looking Lara Flynn Boyle, TV's The Practice) and enlists the help of a two-headed extraterrestrial (Johnny Knoxville, Jackass: The Movie to search for "the light of Zartha," a tool that in the wrong hands can be devastatingly deadly. Serleena has been going from solar system to solar system for twenty-five years searching for this weapon, systematically leaving planets in ruins. After the folks at MIB realize what Serleena's after, Zed (Torn) orders J to find K and bring him back for deneuralization. It seems that the secret to the light of Zartha is locked away in K's subconscious, and he may very well be the only person who can save earth from Serleena's wrath. With the help of a beautiful young witness (Rosario Dawson, Sidewalks Of New York) and Frank the talking pug, K and J are off to save the world once more…in style.
This sequel was inevitable. When you have a smash hit like Men In Black, you have one of two options: let the legacy rest, or churn out another variation of the same storyline. Really, what else could the writers have done? Like its cousin Ghostbusters and its sequel, Men In Black II had no other option but to recycle the same plot; earth is one again threatened by malicious aliens and the MIB are the only ones who can stop it. In a way this is a double-edged sword—on one hand, fans will be happy to note that the same gags and ideas are plentifully utilized in Men In Black II. On the other hand, fans will be disappointed to note that the same gags and ideas…well, you get the point. Men In Black II—clocking in at a mere 88 minutes—doesn't try to set up a complex plot with a twisting or turning screenplay. Since we're all familiar with Agents K and J, director Barry Sonnenfeld gets right to the point with oodles of computer generated special effects, more talking pug than I generally prefer, and Will Smith mugging for all he's worth.
Is this fun? I guess so, in a very "been there, seen that" sorta way. As I watched Men In Black II I couldn't help feel like I'd seen it all before—mainly because I had. Many jokes from the first film are played again to new variations (Tony Shalhoub's alien "Jeebs" getting his head blasted off, K and J arguing about who drives the car) while a few new ones really did make me snicker (I was especially entertained at Serleena's entrance and subsequent human snack). There are even a few surprise cameos, not the least of which is a certain famous singer who will remain nameless (but believe me—you'll know 'em when you see 'em). However, the fact still remains that there's a sense of redundancy among all this stuff. Couldn't the writers have at least come up with a better villain than Serleena? It's not that Boyle's performance is bad, it's just that the character is sorely underwritten—at least as underwritten as a giant Venus flytrap can get. On the other hand, Jones and Smith are a delight to watch as they bicker and nag each other like an old married couple. Inspired pairing to say the least, their performances are what really make Men In Black II worth seeing.
And then we come to the supporting cast, an almost equal part of MIB II's success. Special effects master Rick Baker (watch An American Werewolf in London, How The Grinch Stole Christmas) has crafted a ton of aliens out of rubber, latex, and paint, making this film a wonder to behold when it comes to gooey aliens. In fact, the aliens here are so weird and wonderful that they practically upstage the actors (though not quite). Tony Shalhoub (Thir13en Ghosts) is back as oddball pawn shop owner Jeebs, one eye always tilting slightly to the left. Shalhoub has become one of the best character actors working in Hollywood—who knew that someone from Wings could actually go on to do great work in movies?
I've been a big fan of Sonnenfeld since his two Addams Family films. Originally a cinematographer for Joel and Ethan Coen, Sonnenfeld has quickly established himself as a talented, original director whose films are often more amusing than not. Even in his supposed "stinkers" (Wild Wild West, Big Trouble), Sonnenfeld manages to entertain with his trademark dry humor and special effects. Though Men In Black II often feels like a retread, at least it entertains. That's usually about all you can ask for a sequel.
Men In Black II is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Once again Columbia has put forth some well placed efforts to make sure this transfer is stunningly clear and clean. The black levels and colors are all solid and dark without any bleeding to mar the image. Edge enhancement and haloing are absent, making this a very nice transfer from Columbia that should please fans.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in both French and English. This is a very full, vibrant track that features a ton of effects and surround sounds in both the front and rear speakers. Dynamic range was great with fine separation of dialogue, music and effects. All aspects of the mix are free and clear of any hiss or distortion, making this a very nice track for a home theater system. Also included on this disc are English and French subtitles.
On par with many of these blockbuster releases, Columbia has ponied up the cash for a double disc edition of Men In Black II. This set is jam packed with tons of extra materials, so let's get started…
• Commentary by Director Barry Sonnenfeld with Optional Telestrator: Good old Barry Sonnenfeld. The guy sure knows how to record an audio commentary. Filled with his patented dry wit and funny observations, this track often borders on hysterical. The nice thing about Sonnenfeld is that he doles out equal parts funny and equal parts information on the film's production, casting and special effects. There is also an optional telestrator feature that allows the viewer to watch the commentary with Sonnenfeld using a white highlighter during different parts of the film (including making an arrow through Peter Graves' head). A hoot.
• Alien Braodcast: This feature allows the viewer to turn on a little icon that pops up from time to time during the film. If you click on the icon, it will take you to a short featurette about that part of the film. This is an interesting deal, though much of it is redundant as much of the information found here shows up later on the second disc.
• Frank's Favorites: This is a theatrical trailer gallery that includes trailers for Spider-Man, Ghostbusters, The Mask of Zorro, Men in Black: Deluxe Edition, Men In Black II, and the teaser trailer for Men In Black II. Also included in this section is a preview for a "Men in Black" video game, plus a cute short film titled "The Cubbcubbs."
• Special Delivery: MIB Orb: A cute intro takes you to a screen featuring nine separate shorts on the making of the film. You can choose these featurettes in any order. Each of these shorts focus on various aspects of the film, including the special effects (the making of the worm "Jeff," Serleena), the sound effects, Frank the dog, Danny Elfman's music score, et cetera. These are all very entertaining, especially the feature on sound effects. It's amazing how much work goes into getting those sounds just right. Also of interest to music fans will be the short on Elfman and his film musical stylings. Numerous interviews are featured, including Rick Baker, Sonnenfeld, Smith, Jones, and more.
• Blooper Reel: Just what it sounds like. Most of this is only mildly funny, though the end gag had so much infectious laughter that it had me smiling.
• Serleena Animatic Sequence: This shows a certain effects heavy scene in various forms of production, from early computer effects to hand drawn storyboards.
• Multi-Angle Scene Deconstructions: This featurette allows the viewer to watch five different scenes using their multi-angle button on their remote. This also features some rough blue screen shots and other unfinished aspects of the scene. This is fun for a while, then gets old fairly quickly.
• Alternate Ending: Once again, exactly what it sounds like. This is a variation on the film's original ending, just not as funny. This scene is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen with time code.
• Creature Featurettes: This section includes various shorts on different aliens, including Jeebs, Serleena, Jeff and other slimy terrestrials. This stuff is just plain fun—sure it's nothing new, but I still love watching behind-the-scenes footage on the make-up (and with interviews by Sonnenfeld, the actors, and effects guru Rick Baker). Also included in this section is "Barry Sonnenfeld's Intergalactic Guide to Comedy." Basically, this is Sonnenfeld's theory on what makes things humorous (i.e., be flat, dry, and ironic).
• Theatrical One Sheets: A very short gallery of promo posters from the theatrical release of the film.
• Music Video: Will Smith Introducing TRA-KNOX "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head): Self explanatory, presented in a full frame version.
Finally there are a few selected filmographies, as well as some DVD-ROM content featuring game demos, the screenplay, and other odds and ends.
Though it's not as good as the first film, Men In Black II isn't a bad way to spend an hour and a half of your life. Smith and Jones are funny together, and the pace moves quickly with wacky aliens throughout. Columbia's work on this disc is excellent—fine video and audio presentations and two discs full of extra features.
Men In Black II is free to save earth from the scum of the universe…
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Director Barry Sonnenfeld Including Optional Telestrator
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