Sing Along: Re-turn the Men in Black; You Won’t Want to Remember

At least Men in Black II involves one interesting theme. It comes from a place of empathy with Jay (Will Smith) considering if his gig as “galaxy defender” is an emotional drain. He can’t neuralize Laura (Rosario Dawson), keeping her memories intact because deep down, Jay feels for her. Civil servants give up their lives. In Men in Black terms, that lasts forever.

With two films and two attacks in New York, aliens have it out only for America. Although presented with world-destroying threats, everything seems locked in to a single borough. Men in Black pushes some codified patriotism under the comedic exterior, boisterous and loud as to never linger on things.

That’s also where this sequel runs so astray, messy and even incoherent with the screen drowning in visual effects, missing what the first Men in Black did so well. In the undercurrent was a genuine examination of sci-fi themes, more than conspiracy – although those brought laughs – but smart takes on human fears and the need for secrecy. Men in Black was a rational blockbuster; toss that out for Men in Black II.

Men in Black II is the realization of the first movie’s truth – people are panicky

It’s as if Men in Black II followed the bad sequel template. Bit parts become main parts, including Frank the Pug and a group of alien worms. It’s too much. There’s recycling en masse, with revisits to locations and repeated gags. And worse, a role reversal with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, gutting the entertainment value of Smith’s misplaced arrogance.

This is a movie that envisions Hollywood stars as toilet fodder, swept away into a bowl of blue liquid. There’s a creaky Rube Goldberg machine used to restore Jones’ memory, erratic and overdone as with most of these visual effects.

Originally, Men in Black II’s ending involved the World Trade Centers. Some 10 months post-9/11, that was wisely cut, turning into a brisk 80-minute action-fest without a real finale. If Men in Black II feels truncated, that’s why. Consider too the overwhelming effort to distract from reality, mountains of computer generated effects, surreal aliens, and a persistent sense of busyness.

In a way, Men in Black II is the realization of the first movie’s truth – people are panicky. They need comfort in their lives; Men in Black II tried to provide a little in a depressing time. It didn’t work, sadly, landing with a laugh (maybe two) before dissolving into a pile of big studio mush.

Video

Early 2000s digital compositing and CG effects take some bite from this 4K presentation. No amount of work will fix that, but expect a few such bumps in this otherwise beautiful transfer from Sony.

Men in Black II features a natural, somewhat prickly grain structure, resolved to perfection by this encode. Behind that is an astonishing level of texture, bringing out facial definition in droves. Close-ups wring out every pore, wrinkle, and other information of this source. Sharpness (again, outside of digital effects) never wavers in any instance. It’s pure, true 4K material.

Also helpful is an HDR pass, giving Men in Black II a glossy appearance that benefits the high-budget. Black suits show no signs of crush, incredibly pure and rich when against the white shirts. The latter glows. New York’s night exteriors display rich lights, pushed to peak nits, adding this tech’s vibrancy.

A nice dose of color helps too, with pure flesh tones. Note the magenta push during certain effects scenes, while the rest stands out as a piece untouched by digital color management. Bright primaries run through the movie’s veins.

Audio

Given a Dolby Atmos make-over, this track is a winner from the outset as an alien ship zips around blowing up planets. Bass response is splendid, with debris from the explosions panning about. Precision work in this style doesn’t fade as the action continues into a subway chase loaded with dynamic pop. Bullets zip about, and a late assault by a multi-part flying alien is sonic bliss.

Rich LFE gives power to Lara Flynn Boyle’s character, creating a threat merely through sound. She’s beastly. The subway worm that reintroduces the Men in Black team rolls along with mammoth weight, and the abrupt climax needs equal support as a giant plant smashes through a roof.

Extras

The Blu-ray inside is the same as old. For Men in Black II though, that’s a plus. Even with their age, bonuses explore often untouched aspects of filmmaking. Featurettes delve into ADR, production design, foley effects, and comedic style. Each of these runs close to 10-minutes, easily exploring these aspects in total. A blooper reel is classic set shenanigans, and 25-minutes of creature effects peek at a period of digital/practical blending.

A commentary features director Barry Sonnenfeld going alone. An alternate ending is not the fabled World Trade Center transformation, but a slightly different take on the last scene. Will Smith’s music video and some effects deconstructions round things out.

Men in Black II
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

A dud of a sequel that never grasps what made the first successful, Men in Black II recycles jokes, lacks nuance, and tries too hard for escapism.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 54 full 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: