“Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” Review

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

– for mild action and brief language.
Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Hank Azaria, Owen Wilson
Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: May 22, 2009
Official Site

Plot Summary
Night has fallen upon the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The guides have gone home, the lights are out, the school kids are tucked in their beds… yet something incredible is stirring as former night guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) finds himself lured into his biggest, most imagination-boggling adventure yet in which history truly comes alive. In this second installment of the Night at the Museum saga, Larry faces a battle so epic, it could only unfold in the corridors of the world’s largest museum. Now, Larry must try to save his formerly inanimate friends from what could be their last stand amid the wonders of the Smithsonian, all of which, from the famous paintings on the walls to the rocket ships in the halls, suddenly have a mind of their own… (from Nightatthemuseummovie.com)

Film Review
In December of 2006, Shawn Levy directed a unique family film about a down on his luck man who takes a museum night guard job in order to do something with his life. When he discovers the entire museum comes to life at night due to the presence of a magical Egyptian tablet, he finds he has a huge mess on his hands and needs to rise to the occasion to get the Museum of Natural History under control. Night at the Museum performed so well at the box office as a surprise hit that it warranted a sequel. Now two and a half years later, we return to the world of lively museum artifacts in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

Ben Stiller reprises his role as Larry Daley. Since we last saw him, Larry has left his job as a night guard at the museum and has made a career out of inventing and marketing quirky household items — like a glow-in-the-dark flashlight. It isn’t until a random visit to the museum that he learns that many of the old exhibits are being shipped off to storage to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. And when he discovers through a distress call that there’s trouble from other exhibits that endanger his friends, he springs into action to save them. The plot is actually a pretty clever way to introduce new museum characters while bringing back the old, familiar ones as well. The sequel, although following a similar format as the original, works mostly because of several significant factors. First, Levy returns to helm the film as director. Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, and all of the standout exhibits from the first film get some screen time in the sequel. And when the story takes us over to the Smithsonian, the new characters fit right in with the world Levy helped first create.

Now, one problem almost all sequels have is that they assume that bigger is better. In the first Night at the Museum, there’s a substantial story that really develops the character of Larry Daley from sort of a loser to a bit of a hero. In the sequel, Battle of the Smithsonian, Daley is already a changed man, so the need to develop his character drastically isn’t there. Instead, the film spends a lot more time on introducing new characters (with some being dismissed almost as quickly), and merely continuing the story as fans of the first film know it. The sequel doesn’t mess around too much with the characters, so Battle of the Smithsonian genuinely feels like a continuation — which is indeed a plus. Also, this sequel doesn’t try too hard to copy every little thing that worked about the original, which is also a problem with many sequels. But probably the biggest thing Battle of the Smithsonian has going for itself is the introduction of Kahmunrah, played by Hank Azaria, as the film’s villain. Azaria is fantastic in the role, playing a wonderfully likable adversary for Larry and the other exhibits. Azaria offers a lisp-heavy take on Boris Karloff’s voice for Kahmunrah, as well as creates some of the sequel’s best moments. Another addition to the cast is Amy Adams as the spunky and spirited Amelia Earhart. Although they play her up as a love interest for Daley mighty fast, the two have a good on screen chemistry together.

I may be biased against them, but it was a bit much to have the Jonas Brothers voice a trio of naked flying cupid statues singing modern versions of a couple recognizable love songs. Not only are their voices just not that great, but it felt especially cheesy for them to be picked for the voices of little cupid statues… it only reminded me who this movie is ultimately intended for. Stiller did a good job getting some laughs out of his encounter with them, but we could have done without it — or the Jonas song over the closing credits. Aside from that, the film does struggle to wrap the Smithsonian segment of the film up in even a moderately logical manner. Without spoiling too much, it was strange how Daley never encounters a single other night guard the entire evening at the Smithsonian, and the rules that apply to the Egyptian tablet about keeping characters alive and for how long seems to have been ignored a little, too. But despite any nitpicks, Smithsonian may be one of the more fun family movies to see this year.

For those concerned about content, Night at the Museum 2 keeps things pretty family friendly. There are two seemingly random uses of “d*mn” that really weren’t necessary, while Larry says “Oh my G-d” once and Kahmunrah uses “G-d” about 4 more times (all in one scene, I believe). Other than that, we see the bare butts of the cupid baby statues a few times, The Thinker statue is nude (and I think we might just see his bare butt partially), and Amelia Earhart passionately kisses Larry a couple times, but that’s pretty much the extent of it. There is some violence in the movie, but most of it is kept relatively light or comical. We see some exotic Egyptian mythical creatures at one point too, which could be a bit creepy for the younger viewers, but the film keeps things pretty light enough that it shouldn’t ever get too scary or dark for the kids.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian may not be as tightly told a story as its predecessor, but it offers plenty of fantasy fun within its hour and forty minute running time to generate some light entertainment for the family. While I think a third installment may be a bit much for this concept, I’m glad the story and its characters ventured into the Smithsonian Institution, and I have to admit it makes me want to visit the world’s largest museum now once again too.
John DiBiase, (reviewed: 5/24/09)

Parental Guide: Content Summary
. Sex/Nudity: We see three cherub baby statues flying around naked and see their bare butts and occasionally parts of their front genitalia; We see The Thinker statue who is naked; After a man and woman kiss, tiny little Jedediah is seen in the man’s pocket and he pops out and comments on getting to “second base” (because he must have touched her when the man and woman hugged)
. Vulgarity/Language: 2 “d*mn,” 1 “s*ck,” 5 derivatives of “G-d”
. Alcohol/Drugs: None.
. Blood/Gore: None.
. Violence: Comedic Violence. Monkeys slapping Larry and him slapping back; A huge octopus throws people around; A man fights one on one with a sword versus a man with a flashlight; A person is put in an hourglass and has sand poured on them (threatening to drown them in it; Kahmunrah is constantly saying he will kill people but never does; A large scale battle breaks out that doesn’t result in any deaths, but people are thrown around and pushed over, etc; We see a slow motion action moment where two tiny men with tiny swords slice at a huge man’s shoe (and doesn’t really do much damage); A large squirrel drags a man away (but is okay); Several scenes show spears or knives being pointed at people, but nothing happens; and other mostly comic violence

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