MEN IN BLACK II falls prey to the syndrome that affects many sequels: the apparently irresistible desire to replicate the formula from the first film. There’s nothing wrong with retaining what worked originally, but the slavish recreation results in a follow-up that is less a sequel than a remake — it’s like hearing a singer perform their greatest hit “one more time!”
In this case, the most remarkable thing about MIBII is that (in a manner similar to GHOSTBUSTERS II) the first act is devoted to undoing all the progress made in the first film. Linda Fiorentino’s character is gone (her absence explained with a brief lip-service piece of dialogue), and Will Smith’s agent decides he needs his old partner (Tommy Lee Jones) back to help him with his latest case. Since Jones’ memory was wiped clean at the end of MIB, this provides an opportunity to reintroduce him to the world of the Men in Black agents; in effect, he undergoes the same process of realization that Smith underwent in Part One. It’s rather foolish for a sequel to backtrack in this manner. With all the exposition laid out in the first movie, it would be easy to jump right into a new adventure, instead of spending time re-establishing the old status quo all over again.
Once all the pieces are back in place, the film pretty much runs through the formula established in MIB: lots of outrageous special effects provoking matter-of-fact reactions from our deadpan heroes. It’s not bad, exactly, and it is amusing in its modest way, but overall it is just more of the same.
Men in Black II (2002). Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Screenplay by Ed Solomon, based on the comic book created by Lowell Cunningham. Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Rip Torn