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I love Men In Black. There's no simpler way to say it. I love the characters. I love the practical effects. I love the way how it can point out how incredibly insignificant and self-absorbed we as a species and still be funny about it. Everything about Men In Black was slick, smart and cool. A sequel was inevitable. Unfortunately, that sequel was Men In Black II; sloppy, dumb and a massive disappointment compared to the franchise's first outing. Now, don't get me wrong, Men In Black II is still entertaining; it's just a very different kind of entertaining compared to the first Men In Black. So, grab the last suit you'll ever wear and break out your neuralyzer. It's a Men In Black double feature review.
Men In Black follows the adventures (and misadventures) of NYPD officer James Edwards (Will Smith) as he leaves the force to join a new career path with the mysterious Men In Black, all under the watchful eye of long serving MIB veteran, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). What follows is a fairly simple buddy movie, with the newly inducted Agent J trying to prove himself to the wonderfully deadpan Agent K, all the while trying to save the Earth from certain anihilation. What sets this movie apart from so many others of its kind is the setting; Men In Black does a fantastic job of making the hidden world of the extraterrestrial both exotic and almost ridiculously mundane. Strange and monstrous aliens abound, giving Smith plenty of opportunities to be surprised, confused and even outright disgusted at times, but Jones plays everything straight, the juxtaposition between the two lending the film a brilliantly dynamic pair of mismatched heroes. The relative lack of CGI effects is also a factor in the film's favor; while sometimes goofy, the real life props and puppets make the whole world of Men In Black come to life in a way that CGI just doesn't. Men In Black sells its premise wholehearted and hilariously, and by the end you will believe that maybe... just maybe... there's a lot more to our little blue/green planet than meets the eye.
Men In Black II, on the other hand, suffers from the common sequel problem of trying way-too-damn-hard to outdo its predecessor. Agents J and K team-up once again to take on a villain from K's past and save the world once again, leading to more novice/mentor comedy and weird aliens, but the film lacks the impact of the first Men In Black. J's been with the MIB for years at this point, long enough to become a respected agent in his own right, yet K is still schooling him from the moment they reunite. I'm not saying it's not funny, it just would've been nice to see some character development rather than a retread of J's first foray into extraterrestrial affairs. The overabundance of CGI and massive chaotic action scenes also creates an issue; the first Men In Black worked because everything about it was muted, even the big set-piece scenes, with few, if any, witnesses and the emphasis always on keeping it secret. In Men In Black II, the opening scene has Agent J engaging in a high speed chase through New York's subway system with a five hundred ton alien worm. It's not that it's not entertaining, it just feels like it loses something of the original's magic by trying to be more action orientated when it wasn't a strength of the first film. The quiet reflective moments in Men In Black were what made the film feel real in a lot of was. Here, they're just moments to calm down before the next guns-blazing action sequence. It still has its moments and it is still funny, just not in the same way that made Men In Black great.
To sum up, Men In Black is a great movie and a great idea for a franchise. It's just a shame that the execution fell short of the expectation. Both films have their charms and, if you like the original, odds are the sequel will still keep you entertained for an evening.