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Men in Black 2 (MIIB)

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Men in Black 2 (MIIB)

from Film Forum, 07/03/02

Judging from the warm reception that audiences gave its previews, Men in Black 2 (or, in its abbreviated form, MIIB) is one of the most eagerly awaited films of the summer. Will Smith appears poised to conquer the box office on Independence Day once again.

Unfortunately, critics who have seen the film claim there is not much about this sequel to make it any more memorable than the first. In fact, some say it is quite inferior to the witty, clever original.

Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter) says, "Summer moviegoers will probably be satisfied with this popcorn muncher, but I was a bit let down. Although the special effects are amazing and the action keeps you glued to your seat, the storyline was a bit linear and the comedy often forced or in need of a rewrite."

"Yes, Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith are back in Black," says Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films), "but their odd-couple chemistry has succumbed to tired bickering, while the satiric wit and creative energy of the original film have given way to standard-issue sci-fi action and special-effects spectacle. You'll wait in vain for satirical 'revelations' about the presence of aliens among us to match the wit of the jokes in the original about cab drivers or the World's Fair." He adds, "I liked the fact that MIB ended with Kay finally getting to go back to the woman he loved, and I resent the filmmakers breaking up their marriage for the sake of this inferior sequel."

Mainstream critics are similarly unimpressed.

"Nothing particularly memorable happens in the sci-fi action here," says Kirk Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter), whose generally favorable review lacks any enthusiasm. "Abbott and Costello movies had more sophisticated plots. But the sight of the two actors wading into a sea of icky creatures and bumbling aliens is irresistibly funny. Sonnenfeld keeps things brisk. The movie clocks in at a trim 88 minutes, and things move more swiftly than in a cartoon. Technical effects are top-notch, which doesn't mean the creatures don't look fake … That's part of the joke."

But David Denby (The New Yorker) was not at all amused. "MIIB is mostly dull physical comedy and special effects that are no longer fresh. One scene follows another with little variation; the movie is actually boring—one fights to stay awake."

from Film Forum, 07/11/02

Fans of Barry Sonnenfeld's hit sci-fi/comedy Men in Black packed theaters to celebrate the return of Agents J and K, the illegal-alien-nabbing heroes played by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. "They're back in black," the previews promised. But Men in Black 2 (a.k.a. MIIB), this week's box-office champ, recycles so many of the original's ideas that critics complain it's just a boring re-hash.

Perhaps the most notable change is that Agent J (Smith), who was recruited as a rookie in the last episode, has become the expert. His mentor, Agent K (Jones), has to be brought back from a memory-wipe to return to active duty. K knows the fate of something called "the Light," a device that could give a nasty, lingerie-clad alien (Lara Flynn Boyle) the power to destroy the world as we know it. If K can get his memory back and find "the Light" before the bad guys do, he'll save us all.

But he can't save the movie from aimless plot twists and bad comedy. Mainstream critics claim that the joke-a-minute writing that worked so well in the original seems half-hearted and poorly executed here. Religious press critics are similarly disenchanted, not only for the lack of ideas, but for the lack of a story or anything meaningful.

Jeff Diaz (The Film Forum) asks, "Am I the last human on Earth that likes to have his entertainment be good? Are we a society that prizes witless, inane 'entertainment' so much that we invest so heavily in it?" Likewise, Hillari Hunter (Christian Spotlight) asks, "Have you ever watched a movie where it is obvious that the actors are saying dialogue that is supposed to be funny, but you're not laughing?"

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) writes, "This convoluted and ultimately disappointing plot amounts to very little as the actors seem satisfied to lazily collect their paychecks and simply let the CGI animators upstage them with their various alien creatures. … The animation and makeup effects are uninspired. What was fresh and original in the first film feels tired, stale, and unfunny here." A critic for The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops agrees: "Both Smith and Jones seem comfortable—possibly a little too comfortable—as they get into a rhythm. However, there's a certain been-there-done-that quality to their performances that neither can really shake."

Redundancy isn't the only problem, according to Paul Bicking (Preview). Bicking is bothered by "frequent violence in a humorous manner with too much crude and suggestive material for the expected younger audience." Ted Baehr (Movieguide) agrees, criticizing "highly sexual" sight gags.

A couple of critics didn't seem so bothered. Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) says the movie is "a fun ride at times. It's impossible for MIIB to match the sheer novelty of its predecessor, but considering how much of a letdown it could have been, the sequel holds up pretty well on an entertainment level."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says, "Is it a sequel worth seeing? It's an entertaining, thrilling crowd pleaser that doesn't take itself too seriously." But she admits, "I was a little disappointed. With a little more character depth and a few good lines, MIB II could have been a classic."

Christian viewers might be puzzled by a surreal sequence that spoofs Moses coming down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments. We discover that an entire culture of tiny aliens are living inside a locker in the MIB headquarters. When Agent K opens the locker and addresses the species, it gives them a sort of religious experience. Their tiny spokesman is dressed like Moses. He addresses the crowd and directs their attention to the only printed document they have ever received from the human "deity." The tablet of holy writ is a business card for a local video store. Thus, the masses are found chanting in unison the specifics of late fees and due dates, the only words they have received from a higher reality. It's an elaborate joke, and one of the few that is actually funny. If the film showed any signs of intelligent satire, I would wonder—Is Sonnenfeld just going for cheap laughs? Or is he suggesting that religion is just a ludicrous façade shoddily constructed by people hungry for meaning?

Perhaps there's another interpretation. Perhaps he is suggesting that audiences can't think for themselves—that they put their faith in advertising and follow blindly wherever the media lead. After all, in spite of a host of bad reviews, moviegoers have already made this disappointing waste of time a box office success. (My full review is at Looking Closer.)

from Film Forum, 07/25/02

For starters, J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) declares, "Men in Black II represents the ultimate triumph of marketing over substance. The movie itself is a slight affair with none of the charm or creativity of the original." Parks is particularly bothered by the role of women in the sequel. "Rosario Dawson functions merely as the Love Interest. It's a standard female role in a summer blockbuster, but its ubiquity can't eliminate the ugly sexism that oozes from its conventions. There's no attempt to develop her character. Rather, she's just supposed to get all dewy-eyed whenever Will Smith shows up. At least she doesn't have to parade around in lingerie like Lara Flynn Boyle. Baby, you've come a long way."