The rumors have been going around for quite a while that 23 Jump Street and Men in Black would cross over, but recently they were rather dramatically confirmed when word leaked over director negotiations and a June shooting date. The original, an R-rated action buddy comedy riffing on the original series, was directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who followed it up with an even more successful sequel before being lured away to make The Lego Movie, The Flash, and much more, although they’ll still serve as producers. Which leaves Sony with both a conundrum and an opportunity.
Currently up for the director’s chair is James Bobin, director of both The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted with a long comedy history that includes Flight of the Conchords and Da Ali G Show. It’s an interesting choice not least because Bobin has comedy chops that range from the sweet and slightly adult to the utterly raunchy, as well as both practical and CGI effects skills. He most recently directed the forthcoming Alice Through the Looking Glass, a sequel to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have been confirmed to return, as well, and it’s not hard to see why Sony would think it’s a good idea. 22 Jump Street was a surprise hit for Sony, but it happened to be a surprise hit that made a running joke of franchises mindlessly repeating themselves. More to the point, both Hill and Tatum are producers, as well as stars. It’s abundantly clear nobody wants to be involved unless they’ve got a new idea, and in that context, the crossover makes a lot of sense by virtue of being unique, if nothing else.
At the same time, Sony has been struggling to revive Men in Black. Part of this is simply the casting, as Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are a hard act to follow, and aren’t terribly interested in a fourth go-round in the suits. That’s a problem, as Sony has had a surprising amount of difficulty building the kind of long-running popular summer franchise investors and Wall Street likes to see in a movie studio, let alone the kind of shared universe that’s hot at the moment. They’ve made several attempts, including RoboCop, White House Down, and Pixels, but none of them have stuck.
That said, it’s not really clear just how extensive this crossover is. Will Jenko and Schmidt suit up for a brief turn in the MIB? Will they stumble across aliens as they investigate yet another drug ring and end the movie with their memories erased? Will there be an alternate reality where they both put on the suit? Or do the MIB just show up for a brief moment and leave? There are a lot of options here, and Sony could take any one of them.
Regardless of how it’s executed, the appeal to Sony is clear: They get a third entry in a successful franchise that’s hard to follow up on, and they also get to test out the appeal of a Men in Black reboot without having to pay for a whole separate movie. Now, whether or not it’ll work, that’s another question, but at least it’ll have the virtue of being novel.