- Directed by Shawn Levy
- May 22, 2009
- Based on characters created by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon and the 1993 book The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc
Now a successful businessman, Larry learns that the exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History will be moved to the Smithsonian Institution archives and replaced with holographic displays with the Tablet of Ahkmenrah staying at the Smithsonian so Larry races to get it back.
While the last one was about a dad finding a job his son could be proud of, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is about Larry (Ben Stiller) finding where he actually belongs. After the events of the last film Larry has become the Ron Popiel of his fictional universe. He has founded a company that makes items you would expect Ron Popiel to sell. It felt a bit like they were reaching for a joke in that and that joke fell flat.
Thus Larry has moved on from being a night watchman and found great success selling novelty gizmos. Apparently he’s doing quite well yet still lives in the same apartment from the first film though better furnished. It looks just the same. And there’s the strong appearance that he has custody of his son Nick (Jake Cherry) though the kid’s significant presence in the home could be just for narrative purposes. What’s going on is never alluded to.
Larry has been checking in from time to time at the museum despite no longer working there. As it turns out somehow though he is connected to the board of directors now because of his wealth he completely missed a bit of information about everything in the museum being moved away to the Smithsonian for storage. For somebody who feels close to and apparently responsible for these exhibits he never noticed something very important that was clearly public knowledge.
Gone is the inconsequential girlfriend of the last film. Seriously. Rebecca (Carla Gugino) is not even an afterthought to anybody in this narrative. She is not recast or given a brief explanation why she’s no longer there. She was that disposable. In her place is Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams). Or at least the version that is brought to life at the museum.
I’m still bothered that nobody is aware that there is something in the museum that causes everything to come to life at night. And how is this all missed at the Smithsonian which is essentially the largest museum in the world and as such that tablet affects everything at every connected facility there? We don’t even get a hint that by the end of the film McPhee (Ricky Gervais in an extended cameo) knows what’s going on yet he’s smart enough to figure out who was responsible for the large endowment that brought everything back and allowed for things to return as they once were though slightly modified.
That is a sticking point for me. In every fictional universe you need some kind of consistent logic even if in the real world it would not work and I’m just not sure how people are smart enough to work in a museum and yet never become aware of something that has been going on for 50 years in some place they frequent.
And unlike the last one Larry ends the story differently than when he began. He thought being a well-to-do novelty mogul was the life he wanted when in reality he wanted to be among a bunch of talking exhibits.
The Amelia Earhart we get in this film is way too heavy into the 40s lingo and it starts to get annoying. Seriously. But they do hang a bit of a lantern on that when Larry remarks to her that one of the words she uses sounds that it may have been made up even for her. It’s a nice little joke but by that point it had become very annoying and I think the joke should’ve been moved up earlier.
There appears to be a larger celebrity cast in this one than before. We have Hank Azaria as the villain of the movie Kahmunrah, Christopher Guest as Ivan the Terrible, Jon Bernthal as a young Al Capone, Bill Hader as Gen. George Armstrong Custer, the Jonas Brothers as a group of singing cherubs, Jay Baruchel as Joey Motorola who is a sailor that resides in the V-J Day in Times Square photograph, Eugene Levy as a group of Albert Einstein Bobbleheads, Craig Robinson as Tuskegee Airman #2, Clint Howard as Air and Space Mission Control Tech #1 (I swear this is not the first time he was such), and Caroll Spinney as Oscar the Grouch. That also includes returning actors Robin Williams as two versions of Theodore Roosevelt, Owen Wilson as cowboy minifigure Jedediah, Steve Coogan as Roman soldier minifigure Octavius, Mizuo Peck as polyurethane model Sacagawea, Rami Malek as pharaoh Ahkmenrah who is the younger brother of Kahmunrah, Patrick Gallagher as Attila the Hun, and Brad Garrett as the voice of the Easter Island Head. In the story apparently the Smithsonian found a cowboy mini more desirable than a life-sized Teddy Roosevelt meaning Williams little more than cameoed. I guess it all depends on who your best friend is in real life.
Hank Azaria as Kahmunrah is great. He is the appropriate mix of convincing threat and comedic as he collects various historical figures to aid in his plan. You can see him succeeding even if he is the unintentionally (on his part) funny variety of evil. In this film he is the older brother of Ahkmenrah who is the rightful possessor of the tablet. There’s a lot of talk about the two but the two characters never interact. Rami Malek is reduced to a funny cameo at the end of the movie. Larry does not even consult him for info which makes no sense. It is as if Malek’s appearance was tacked on at the end.
Ben Stiller is a much more confident Larry. There are a few elements of the old portrayal but those are rare and this Larry is not reset to the last film. While he needs the help of his son it is not because he’s an idiot but because his son can get information he can’t. Essentially his son is the guy back at HQ providing the agent on the mission important details.
The relationship between Larry and Amelia Earhart is well done. It’s funny and romantic in a 40s kind of way even if she does use the lingo too heavy. My main complaint is the cap off to it all. It’s sweet and touching and a bit sad. They should have left it at that but they decided to cap it with a little bit of stupidity which ruined the moment. It hit in an impactful way that fit with this comedy and then watching her fly off in an apparent confused way or they were confused ruined it. Plus Larry in the closing moments hits on a patron also played by Amy Adams because she looks like Amelia. Creepy!
There are some great action sequences in just cool visuals. I think this movie is possibly funnier than the last one. The jokes work a little better possibly because this is a sequel and they have an idea of what works for them. It is not a sophisticated or perfect film but it is very entertaining. This is something adults can enjoy on their own or with children.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is a flawed yet good follow up to the original film. It’s funny and entertaining action flick that has fun with its premise. I recommend this one.