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Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Directed by Shawn Levy
By Tony Sheppard
I was pleasantly surprised by “NatM:BotS” and it may be one of those rare sequels that manages to surpass the original, albeit by taking a slightly different tack.
Ben Stiller returns as Larry Daley, erstwhile museum night guard and now successful inventor and infomercial pitch man (supported in his commercial enterprises by another pitch man, George Forman). His old work place, New York’s Museum of Natural History, is undergoing renovations and updates, and the exhibits are scheduled to be archived in Washington. This of course is problematic, given the presence of an ancient Egyptian artifact that re-animates those exhibits at night. Suffice to say that the move is not entirely smooth, and fighting breaks out amongst the new residents and their incumbent neighbors.
Where the original movie was driven by the basic concept of museum exhibits that come to life, the sequel succeeds by going beyond that. This one is more character-driven, with greater time dedicated to appreciating the new historical figures involved, including Amelia Earhart (another delightful performance by Amy Adams), Kahmunrah (the older brother of the owner of the magic artifact – played by Hank Azaria, who also gives voice to two other characters), and Napoleon Bonaparte (in a scene stealing performance by Alain Chabat). Azaria in particular is given a lot of time and opportunity to engage Stiller, and “wins” most of the shared time on screen. Much of this novelty is at the expense, however, of the relatively under-utilized returning characters who are given very little to do—most notably Robin Williams.
One nice additional touch is the animation of the paintings on the walls of the Smithsonian, but it’s offset by some flaws in the internal logic of the film. At one point, Larry and Amelia get to fly the Wright Brothers’ first plane, the Wright Flyer. The real plane made a historic but very short and straight flight before falling victim to a stray gust of wind. But they fly it like it’s an air show stunt plane, crop duster and an X-Wing fighter all rolled into one. Later, they put a suspiciously heavy load in a Lockheed Vega.
The film also makes no suggestion of there being a range of effect for the magical reanimating artifact, whether above or below ground. It might actually be more fun—and plot-helpful—for characters to lose their mojo as the artifact moves out of some pre-determined range.
All of which is not really the kind of analysis that may seem appropriate for a kid’s movie. But a film like this should also be somewhat respectful of actual historic characters and objects, in my opinion. You could come away from this thinking the Wright Brothers were simply bad pilots of an awesomely capable plane, for example. That said, I had a far better time than I expected. I recommend it.