Here we go with another sequel. By the way, I am writing this review of Men in Black II (2002) in the wake of the post-Will Smith slapping of Chris Rock incident at the Oscars, unlike when I wrote about Men in Black (1997). I am not sure that matters at all, but, you know, it is a thing that happened, and Will Smith does star in both as Agent J. I have no further comment on that situation, nor do I care enough to have one. It is because of movies like this franchise that Smith’s career took off to the point that such an outburst would be all anyone talked about for roughly a day, even entering into the conversations of the sports talk radio shows to which I listen. I have already said more than I wanted to on the subject. Instead, let us return to the heady days of the first years of the twenty-first century when we were treated to a solid follow-up to a hit science fiction/comedy/action/whatever that many enjoyed.
The first thing we see in Men in Black II is a short mock-feature, narrated by Peter Graves, detailing the mysterious title group in 1978. They are conferring with aliens asking that the agents hide an object known as “the Light of Zartha” from a monster they call Sarleena (Lara Flynn Boyle). The Men in Black refuse, citing Earth’s neutral status in galactic politics, but fight Sarleena. Their act allows the Zarthans to escape, and Sarleena vows to return. We next zoom to 2002, when a much smaller version of Sarleena’s craft lands in Central Park, and she morphs into a Victoria’s Secret model. Meanwhile, Agent J and his new partner, Agent T (Patrick Warburton), attempt to neutralize a giant snake-like alien that lives in New York City’s subways and sewers. When it goes horribly wrong, J pulls out his memory erasing devise over a piece of pie and wipes T’s memory, affectively ending T’s time as a Men in Black agent. As this is going on, Sarleena meets up with her minion, the two-headed Scrad (Johnny Knoxville), whose second head goes by Charlie, and together they find the nearest Zarthan. This happens to be Ben (Jack Kehler), owner of Ben’s Pizza, who is also a Zarthan. This is news to his one employee, Laura Velasquez (Roasrio Dawson), who witnesses the attack from a hiding place in the restaurant. This is where J later finds her, after he explains to his boss Agent Zed (Rip Torn) what happened with T. J is joined by the alien that looks like a pug known as Frank (voiced by Tim Blaney), and they question Laura about the incident. It is standard Men in Black procedure to “neuralize” (their term for erasing memories) victims of alien attacks, but something about her gives J pause. Instead, J and Frank are called to the park to investigate Sarleena’s ship, and Zed is on hand. Between the appearance of this ship and J relating what happened at the pizzeria, they realize that Sarleena has returned to look for the Light of Zartha. There is only one person who witnessed the event back in 1978, but Zed claims he works at the post office. J realizes that Zed is talking about Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), the person who brought J into the Men in Black in the first film. Zed orders J to bring in K. When K proves obstinate, J has to show him all the aliens that work in the mail room to demonstrate to the former agent that what Agent J is saying about K’s previous life is not crazy. Unfortunately, during the process of reversing the neuralization to restore K’s memory, Sarleena attacks Men in Black headquarters and J and K are literally flushed out of the building. They next turn to an old acquaintance from the last movie, an alien known as Jack Jeebs (Tony Shalhoub), who has built his own deneuralizer in the basement of his pawnshop. K is strapped to the machine, which whirls and clinks, but apparently does nothing to help his memory. Instead, he goes outside and upon avoiding stepping on a cockroach, which thanks him, his memory returns. It does so in time for him to go and help J fight some alien henchmen sent by Sarleena to kill the two of them. Despite K having his recall, he cannot remember anything about the Light of Zartha, speculating that he must have deleted it himself. K requests that they go back to the pizzeria, and there they find a scared Laura. While J talks to Laura, K finds a key on the wall, that belongs to a locker at Grand Central Terminal, part of a series of clues K left behind in the event of Sarleena doing this very thing. For protection, they take Laura to a safe house with the “worm guys,” another group of aliens, and continue their chase. Inside the locker is an entire alien civilization that have been keeping watch over a business card to a video store. The video store has the same episode we watched at the beginning of the film, which jogs K’s memory of what happened in 1978. This goes on while Sarleena sends Scrad abduct Laura from the worm guys. This prompts J and K to return to Men in Black headquarters, where they must fight Sarleena and her henchmen to free Laura. It results in a chase through New York City in one of the agency’s vehicles, while Sarleena’s follows in a different ship. Losing Sarleena for a moment by landing on top of a building, K reveals to Laura that she is the Light of Zartha. Her bracelet, which had a triangular charm on it, matches one that now appears in the sky above them. Laura is incredulous, but goes on to be beamed up when K tells her that it is her destiny to save Zartha. Now alone, J and K make their stand and they basically vaporize Sarleena in an explosion of colors that look a bit like fireworks. Following the light show, J looks up to see Laura floating away, and there is a suggestion that K is her father. We end with K attempting to comfort J back at headquarters, though J claims to be fine, before K reveals that they, too, are living in a locker.
There is a subtle pro-life message in Men in Black II that might not be recognizable to anyone but the most ardent Catholic like me. The whole time we are led to believe that the Light of Zartha is a small object, which the movie suggests is a call back to its predecessor. Instead, as mentioned a moment ago, it is a life that had been protected on Earth, that is until Sarleena figured out what the Zarthans had done in 1978. Us Catholics, particularly those who are genuinely pro-life, are often depicted as these lunatics who will stop at nothing to stop women from having their “right” to choose. Stepping away from the semantics for a moment, look at the choices made by the characters in the film. The bit at the beginning says that the Men in Black decided to not get involved in the affairs of other planets. There are a lot of people out there that would rather have nothing to do with the debate over abortion. It is understandable. It has become quite contentious over the years, unfortunately. Yet, we also see how the love of one man kept a child safe from harm. One might say that K’s actions are selfishly motivated, but then there is J’s decision to let Laura go. There had been a relationship developing between them, but he understood that she had a bigger destiny. What this all says to this Catholic reviewer is that life is always worth it. I get that the decision to bring a new life into the world is not an easy one, even under the best of circumstances. However, if given a chance, one life can do extraordinary things. Or bad things, but you pray for those ones.
Men in Black II is one of the rare sequels that lives up to the quality of its forebear. There is a little bit of innuendo with Sarleena’s character, but for the most part it is pretty safe for most audiences. Like the first, they also have a lot of fun with the concept of Earth as sort of an intergalactic Casablanca. As such, it gets my full recommendation.