Friday, September 04, 2015

Museum Everywhere You Go

Having checked Night at the Museum off the list, I recently moved on to the sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. The gang is (mostly) back, but shipped off to storage at the Smithsonian in the name of progress. Ben Stiller's protagonist is drawn into a new adventure on an even broader scale than the original.

The scope of the second film is one of its greatest strengths. The visual effects aren't always convincing, but the ideas are there in the script. By moving out of the natural history museum and into the Smithsonian, gags move beyond dioramas and skeletons coming to life. A major new action sequence involves jumping in and out of a painting (and extracting real-world objects from framed art), while massive statues (and one national monument) are brought to life as well. It all feels like a fun expansion of the original movie's ideas.

What doesn't work so well is the way the sequel uses the characters from the first film -- or, rather, fails to use them. Robin Williams is squandered in a glorified cameo (perhaps he only agreed to work for a couple of days?), as are the returning characters of Sacagawea, Ahkmenrah, and Rick Gervais' Dr. McPhee. (Owen Wilson's Jedediah and Steve Coogan's Octavius do a bit better.) The absence of Carla Gugino's character from the film isn't even addressed. Granted, there are several new characters to play with -- Amy Adams is clearly having fun as Amelia Earhart, and Eugene Levy's collection of Einstein bobbleheads serve up some good laughs -- but they crowd out the old guard in an unfortunate echoing of the "out with the old" set-up of the plot.

The story isn't quite as strong as that of the first film. This time, protagonist Larry Daley has found success as an inventor and infomercial personality, but his life is devoid of the happiness he felt while working at the museum. The script is smart to give him this new problem, but it doesn't feel as core and relatable as his quest from the first film, to improve his relationship with his son.

Still, while the movie might not play the heartstrings as effectively as its predecessor, it might just be more pure "fun" overall. That comes from small touches (like the casting of no less than three alumni from The Office in bit parts), broad strokes like Hank Azaria's over-the-top mugging as the villain, and silly little gags like an Oscar the Grouch cameo and a flying group of singing cherubs.

In all, I'd call it a decent sequel that (in typical sequel fashion) doesn't quite measure up to the original. Still, I'd give it a B.

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