Men in Black is one of the best Hollywood blockbusters ever made. Director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Ed Solomon spun an obscure comic book into a ridiculously fun piece of popcorn entertainment bursting with imagination and humor. Stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith gave new life to the tired tropes of a mentor who’s seen it all before and a cocky rookie eager to prove himself. The film ends with Jones relaxing in semi-permanent retirement while Smith continues forward with experience to back up his swagger.
Audiences were primed for more adventures.
It’s no surprise that the ensuing sequels fell short of the original. Audiences can be knocked out of their socks by new ideas, but when the same notes are played again in contractually-obligated follow-ups, enthusiasm withers into apathy. If you adjust for inflation, the domestic grosses for Men in Black II and 3 combined were only $2 million more than the first outing. The series’ minor shake-ups to the mentor/rookie dynamic weren’t enough of a draw against the debuts of Spider-Men Maguire and Garfield.
It didn’t have to be this way. One blindingly-obvious sequel avenue was never explored. This isn’t a reference to the brilliantly-conceived 21 Jump Street crossover, but a simple inversion of the concept.
Imagine: on a moonlit night, three escaped convicts run through the woods. Two men are vicious killers; the third is a Wall Street broker. They’ve all ruined lives with no remorse. As the police close in, the crooks stumble upon a crash-landed UFO. A wounded alien crawls toward them, asking for their help. The convicts exchange a look, then kick the alien away and march into the ship. The police are stunned as the flying saucer lifts up and soars into the sky.
The criminals travel outside of our galaxy and visit alien planets, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. But unknown to the trio, the UFO’s engine is overloading and will soon self-destruct. The explosion will be catastrophic – enough to destroy an entire world.
Agents J and K have protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. But now, our heroes must protect the universe from the scum of the Earth:
MEN IN BLACK IN SPACE
Come on. It’s a no-brainer.
Elliot Campos (@elliotscampos) is a writer living in Los Angeles. He writes, directs and edits the Beyond School audio-play and previously co-hosted the Superhero Sampler podcast. Both shows are available on iTunes.