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MEN IN BLACK II
Widescreen

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Lara Flynn Boyle, Rosario Dawson, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shaloub, Rip Torn
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 88 Minutes
Release Date: November 26, 2002

“Let's go put it on?”

“Put what on?”

“The last suit you'll ever wear…again.”

Film ***

Upon my first view of the original Men in Black in 1997, I had a rare feeling that a sequel was much warranted. Any excuse to recapture the uniquely funny chemistry between lead stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith would be completely acceptable by me, even though it was essentially clear to me that at the end of the original, Tommy Lee Jones (Agent K) was sent back to a requested civilian life, having no knowledge of his role in the Men in Black agency. However, five years after the worldwide box office success and critical acclaim, MIB II arrived and was one of this past summer's top box office hits, as expected.

Of course, the big question is does it exceed the quality of the original, and the answer is very easily no. In fact, it doesn't even begin to exceed it. The first MIB contained a unique sense of discovery within its plot and original atmosphere, and was certainly a lot funnier. For this second installment, what is at hand is nothing short of a reversed retread of the original's plot scenario, but that doesn't stop MIB II from being a fun ride, especially at a brisk running time of 88 minutes. In the realm of sequels, you have the rare greats like Blade II and wretched ones like Speed 2, and Men in Black II falls right in the good enough to be accepted category (something I made up, obviously. In fact, I enjoyed my viewing of this much more than when I first saw it in theaters.

The film presents a new Agent J (Will Smith) who has become MIB's most respected and top agent, though he has an issue with neuralizing the memories of every partner he is given, which isn't pleasing his boss, Zed (Rip Torn). J's latest assignment has him investigating a murder committed by the sinister alien known as Serleena, a wormlike force that has donned the disguise of a magazine model (Lara Flynn Boyle). Serleena is on a mad pursuit of The Light of Zartha, and there's only one person who knows the secret behind this mystery. That person, you guessed it, is former Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), who is now living a much peaceful life as the Post Master General of a small New England town, though he harbors a similarly grumpy personality. J convinces K, or as he is now called, Kevin, to come back with him to MIB Headquarters to be de-neuralized so that they can retrieve the powerful light.

What I did appreciate about MIB II was the amount of screen time handed down to some of the memorable alien creatures highlighted in the predecessor. First off there's Frank, who has so much screen time that the actor playing him should've gotten a supporting cast credit. Frank is the alien/bulldog puppy who was interrogated by K and J in the first movie, and now serves as J's temporary partner until K is brought back. There is also more screen time given to the riotous Worm guys, who have now been temporarily suspended from MIB for allegedly stealing items from headquarters. They even get to suit up in the finale for a big battle, which is a downright hoot.

The real stars of the show are the special and visual effects, which really deserve praise this time around, even though effects these days get more work than a script. The opening sequence, with J dueling it out with a gigantic subway worm named Jeff is a knockout visual sequence. Credit director Barry Sonnenfeld with his gift for mixing in astonishing effects with a bizarre sense of humor, as was demonstrated in the first MIB.

It may not exceed the quality of the original, but Men in Black II does get the job in terms of its witty humor and unique effects, which, as in the first movie, are some of the most creative effects I've seen. It's one of those movies you won't think about after you watch it, but you are likely to have fun in the moment of.

Video ****

A huge congrats should be given to Columbia Tri Star for releasing two reference quality discs in the same month. In addition to their monumental release of Spider-Man, CTS has delivered another big boom with their eye gazing transfer of MIB II. You pretty much can't go wrong with transferring a movie like this, which has a visually inspired production design by Bo Welch, who also designed the first movie. The anamorphic picture is a hundred percent flawless, complete with brilliant picture clarity and purely natural colors. A DVD visual masterpiece all the way!

Audio ****

With all of the action and effects work reminiscent of the first movie, the 5.1 surround sound mix wonderfully captures about every hint of sound there is, from action scenes to background noises, to composer Danny Elfman's larger than life music score. Dialogue is delivered in much excellent clarity, both in human and in alien languages!

Features ****

A knockout 2 Disc package with endless features that'll make you wish you could be neuralized to experience it all over again. Disc 1 includes a feature length commentary with director Barry Sonnenfeld, who is always a riot to listen to. This commentary track also includes a bonus option of Telestrator Diagrams. Also featured is an “Alien Broadcast” viewing option, as well as a special animated short film, and trailers.

Disc 2 includes much more, starting with a grand total of 15 individual featurettes, which capture everything from looping to visual effects to the creation of every effects driven characterization. Included as well is an alternate ending, music video for Will Smith's song “Nod Your Heads (Black Suits Comin'), multi-angle scene deconstructions, theatrical one sheets, and a bloopers reel which ranks as one of the funniest ever to appear on DVD. DVD-Rom material is also included.

Summary:

Men in Black II succeeds primarily on the unbeatable chemistry of the lead stars, and the original style of director Barry Sonnenfeld. It doesn't begin to rival the predecessor, but as far as sequels go, it's much acceptable.