Tony Black on the Jump Street and Men in Black crossover MIB 23…
Remember the big Sony leak at the end of 2014? The one that made everyone panic about that really rather rubbish North Korea-baiting Rogen/Franco comedy? Well aside from the news that Spider-Man might end up coming back to the MCU (and arguably the positive reaction to that helped Spidey end up in Captain America: Civil War), one of the most surprising revelations was that Sony was considering crossing over its hugely successful Jump Street franchise with none other than the Men in Black. Cue a collective mass ‘WTF???’ from almost everybody, and surely a “that’ll never happen!”. Get some of that humble pie folks because not only did Sony announce the crossover was on, but in March named James Bobin–director of The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted and the upcoming sequel nobody wanted, Alice: Through the Looking Glass–as the guy calling the shots, and just this week he was talking up the project. Given the title ‘MIB 23‘, it refers obviously to the galaxy defenders but also the third sequel of the Jump Street franchise – after 21 and 22 Jump Street, both of which starred Channing Tatum & Jonah Hill as an immensely likeable cop buddy duo, feeling much like a modern Lethal Weapon. Everyone is now wondering how such a crazy mash-up of not only franchises but genres will be hitting our screens next year.
From a strategic point of view, this does two things: firstly it extends a franchise that people loved and Sony clearly weren’t sure what to do with next, in Jump Street; the hilarious post-credits sequence of the last movie saw Tatum’s Jenko & Hill’s Schmidt in a succession of numbered sequels which grew ever more over the top and hilarious, spoofing the idea of sequels repeatedly jumping the shark in a quest to grow bigger. Tatum & Hill don’t really need the franchise anymore and no doubt would have been reticent to simply do a third film in the same vein, especially after that post-credits send up. MIB 23 is a good carrot on the stick to keep them interested. Tonally, the entire Jump Street saga has also been very self knowing and referential, often playing up conventions of the genre it lay in while finding a way to adhere to them, so from that standpoint actually having them fuse into a science-fiction realm isn’t too big a leap.
The second thing the crossover does is revitalise a flagging franchise in Men in Black. Arguably, it’s a series of films that never capitalised on its original success – Will Smith & Tommy Lee Jones did wonderful work for Barry Sonnenfeld in the 1997 original, but it took five years for a lacklustre sequel and then another ten years to round out the trilogy with a better but still average third movie (only a success thanks to Josh Brolin on great form, even if it did mean Jones was sidelined for almost the entire movie). With Smith & especially Jones a touch too long in the tooth now to kickstart a new lease of life, pairing the Men in Black with the Jump Street boys, and featuring two new actors playing the secret agents, allows them to, if successful, spin off an entirely new franchise for the MIB’s off the back of a guaranteed banker in terms of box office. It’s a shrewd move, as long as the right components are in place.
While it’s unknown if MIB originator Sonnenfeld will be involved in any capacity, we know that Jump Street maestros Phil Lord & Christopher Miller–two of the finest directors working in mainstream Hollywood today–are busy prepping the Han Solo Star Wars anthology movie, hence the lensing falling to Bobin. They will likely stay on as producers and may well have a hand in the script, already penned by Rodney Rotham who wrote the script for 22 Jump Street, and with original MIB producers Walter Parkes & Laurie MacDonald aboard, we can be sure this likely will tie into the Men in Black established mythology from the previous three movies, plus the Jump Street movies mythology (and equally the original 80’s TV show the films adapted, which of course is canon given Johnny Depp’s cameo in 21 Jump Street as his TV character). We know very little about plot yet, bar the fact Bobin has recently assured fans how well the two worlds mesh with each other. There is indeed also a female-led Jump Street spin-off in the early stages of development, riffing off the expected mega-success of the new female-led Ghostbusters franchise, so this new shared Sony universe could only begin to expand even further.
It’s still early days for this crossover event but what you could well see here is the beginning of a trend, should MIB 23 be a success (and it almost certainly will be). Crossovers in fiction are nothing new of course but they have perhaps been more the preserve of TV shows in the past, and though movies have now evolved into the franchise model of shared universes and character arcs, what we haven’t seen is a propensity of crossover franchises beyond superheroes, Alien & Predator’s lacklustre smackdowns, or the schlocky B-movie horror of Freddy vs. Jason etc… It’s also very infrequent when it comes to sci-fi or comedy oddly, certainly in the modern era long past the days of Abbott & Costello meeting goodness knows what.
With Godzilla set to take on King Kong in the near future, the Universal Monsters franchise burgeoning and ever more extended cinematic universes in the planning phase, might MIB 23 make not just the franchise but genre crossover Hollywood’s next big thing? Dracula meets Fast & Furious? I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d also pay to see that in a heartbeat!
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.