Sony didn’t get the joke: Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s crazily genius end-credits in 22 Jump Street quipped that any more sequels would exhaust the goodwill earned from the already-hackneyed idea to reboot an old TV show on film. Put simply: The Jump Street franchise had run its course, and so has the nearly two-decade-old Men in Black series, for that matter. Once Tommy Lee Jones dropped out of the third installment — replaced by with Josh Brolin and a time travel plot — it was an ideal time to hang up those iconic Ray-Bans. But in a desperate move, Sony moved ahead with plans to smash two of their moribund franchises together, creating a Frankenstein monster of brand loyalty. But it just might work.
Crossovers are the big-screen (or big-kid?) version of pitting G.I. Joe action figures against Darth Vader dolls; it’s fan fiction. But planting separate franchise characters in a single story is nothing new. It happens on TV all the time, and in literature, the shared multiverse has birthed some very prominent characters: J.D Salinger’s Glass Family, William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, or even Edgar Rice Burroughs’ interconnected sci-fi writing. But Sony’s Frankenstein mentality is the perfect way to make sense of the Jump Street/MIB cinematic crossover.
1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is one of the earliest on-screen examples of this. Yes, given the horror genre, monsters meeting in a separate movie is sensical. But these encounters go beyond genre: 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein fused comedy and horror. In fact, this film was so successful that the bumbling comedic duo later appeared with other iconic monsters in a fairly popular string of movies. They met the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Mummy in three other films — all within eight years of their hijinks with Frankenstein.
Combining two different franchises is supposed to give us the best of both worlds. Yet, the quality of crossovers range wildly: from mediocre to bad. You got your Freddy vs. Jason movie and a pair of lackluster Alien vs. Predator movies, and plenty of terrible straight-to-video cash grabs like the recent Lake Placid vs. Anaconda. Also, who could forget the times Godzilla, king of the monsters, faced any number of his mightiest foes in movies like Mothra vs. Godzilla or King Kong vs. Godzilla? This year we’ll even get Batman squaring off against Superman.
The most interesting crossovers result when the central idea goes a bit deeper. Marvel’s lucrative Cinematic Universe took cues from comics to build an on-screen mythology of superheroes meeting in different movies. (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, adapted from Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name, is all about how bizarrely effective interactions between different literary characters like Tom Sawyer, Dracula’s Mina Harker, and Captain Nemo might be.)
But all those weird examples somehow still make sense when compared to Jump Street/MIB. It’s a reckless idea. A rambling email from the Sony hack written by Jump Street star Jonah Hill, described the crossover as “clean and rad and powerful.” But that only reveals that he hasn’t given the potentially embarrassing movie a second thought — and neither did the studio. According to another email from the hack, Sony’s Columbia Pictures president of production Hannah Minghella said, “We don’t have a script yet so we’ll be green-lighting the movie off the concept and the talent involved.”
But things are clearer when you consider the involvement of filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller. The Jump Street franchise is, at its most effective, as a parody of itself, thanks to Lord and Miller’s near perfect grasp on meta-humor that stretches all the way back to Clone High, the historical-figures-as-cloned-high-schoolers cartoon they created in 2002. Recall the multi-genre mix-ups throughout their uber popular Lego Movie. Jump Street and MIB is a random combination, but these are the guys that put Gandhi and JFK together on TV and Batman and the Ninja Turtles together in a movie and still, somehow, made it work.
Certainly, it will be surreal to see Jonah Hill suddenly battling aliens and erasing people’s minds in a bespoke suit, it might just be crazy enough to work if you don’t think about the logistics. Does this mean there were aliens living among humans all along in the Jump Street universe? Who cares. The idea itself is so brazen and non-sensical that it’s like a freak show: it’s so weird that you can’t look away. The film has a tough challenge ahead: to shake the mediocre tradition of crossovers. But in a sea of endless reboots and remakes, at least this will be something we’ve never seen before.