Having never seen the first Night at the Museum, I was a bit hesitant in seeing this movie. Would I understand all the jokes? Would there be crucial story elements that I would miss out on? The good news is that the answer is no, casual moviegoers will more than enjoy this movie and not be hopelessly lost. The bad news is that I might need to see the original as many of those I’ve spoken to say the sequel is a disappointment, something I’d have to agree with.
Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian continues to follow security guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), who successfully overcame the artifacts coming to life in the Museum of Natural History. In this installment Larry has to head to the Smithsonian after former museum is closed down for renovation. When a magical stone tablet is put back together it animates all the artifacts from the famed museum including Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), General Custer (Bill Hader) and the evil Pharaoh, Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria). Larry is forced to keep everything contained in the museum but faces a challenge with the Smithsonian having several different museums for the group to run around in.
Having never seen the first movie I have to say how much I enjoyed this installment. Having seen the actual Smithsonian myself it’s breathtaking to see the grandeur of the museum on the big screen. Looking at all the artifacts, including a great air battle at the Air and Space Museum it makes you realize how many times you’ve wanted to see something like that. The story is simple and allows for some great action and set pieces, mainly involving things like the Thinker statute and the Lincoln Memorial. On that front the special effects are top-notch in a family film like this. Having Al Capone in black and white never feels fake or looks weird, it looks really legit, a stand-out effect in a movie like this. Kids will adore this movie, after all that is the core demographic. I saw this with two fifth graders who thought it was hilarious. They loved every line and every scene was the best. They also became incredibly interested in the Smithsonian, something I didn’t expect and thought was great.
Other than the small set pieces and whatnot above I don’t really have a lot of negative things to say because the movie is so lackluster. Essentially it’s Ben Stiller running around for 90 minutes with crazy things being thrown his way. Nothing particularly funny or interesting happens during this time, in fact as soon as the movie was over I forgot about 20% of it. The movie is just totally unremarkable. One of the big disappointments, according to many, is how wasted the cast from the first film is. Robin Williams is virtually non-existent, reprising his role as Teddy Roosevelt while Jedediah (Owen Wilson) and Octavius (Steve Coogan) never have the fun banter or chemistry they had in the first movie. I also noticed that a lot of the best material was shown in the trailers, like the Sacagawea name butchering and the “firepower” line.
The cast in this has done far better and all of them seem to be mugging for the camera quite a bit. Ben Stiller plays it straight and never makes himself particularly loveable this time around as Larry. He’s essentially playing off the characters and reacting with silly faces. Amy Adams is a gem as Amelia Earhart with her quirky dialogue specific to her era. Jay Baruchel steals the few scenes he’s in as Joey Motorola. Bill Hader and Steve Coogan also are funny in the few scenes they’re in. Owen Wilson and Robin Williams are wasted as mentioned above and Hank Azaria is just painful as the evil Pharaoh. His ridiculous accent becomes cliché and stupid as the movie progresses and the fact that he voices the Thinker and Abe Lincoln puts him on overload in this movie.
In the end I enjoyed Night at the Museum 2, especially as a first installment to the franchise but I think I’d enjoy the first a lot more. The plot is pretty thin; the characters are spread out as well. Stiller doesn’t give his best performance but the kids love it and adults will enjoy the settings and the crazy action scenes. I give it a 2.5/5.