Ben Stiller gathers his NATM cohort as they take their mix of slapstick and Scooby Doo to Washington D.C. where the Smithsonian archives are bought to life by the power of Ahkmenrah’s Tablet. Shawn Levy’s family friendly Night at the Museum grossed nearly 0m worldwide so a sequel was fairly inevitable and in these risk aversive climate the Battle of the Smithsonian needed only to rekindle the comedic chaos and broad dramatic strokes of the original to succeed.
It’s no surprise that the sequel does not stray from this path, and this is a blessing and a curse. On the surface the ‘Museum come to life’ device is as much fun as ever, with the Smithsonian archives an Aladdin’s Cave of historical artefacts and all the film needed to do was to bring back some of the favourite characters from the first film and introduce some new blood. While Levy and his cast revive the enjoyment of the initial outing it is in stretching the characters and story across a broader canvas that the film’s impact begins to thin.
Stiller returns as Larry Daley, who after becoming an incredibly successful businessman in the intervening years, finds his wealthy life devoid of the camaraderie and sheer fun that he enjoyed while as the night watchman at the Museum of Moving Exhibits. Kicking the plot along is the renovation of the Museum of National History which will result in many of Larry’s showpiece friends being sent into the vast Smithsonian storage archives. The magical tablet is also being moved and its power will bring to life the capital’s vast archives which includes a multitude of historical figures such as Al Capone, Ivan the Terrible and the main villain of the piece Kahmunrah who looks to use the power of the tablet to bring about the end of the world. So, as you can see – bigger in every way, but how does it play out?
Stiller is as capable as ever as the everyman in extraordinary circumstances and fans of British comedy are well served as Ricky Gervias’s tiny role serves to bookend the film, and for the first time I caught a glimpse of the subtlety Gervias (a man I have never found funny) is capable of. Steve Coogan returns as Octavius as is given slightly more scope to bring his talent to the role, there’s a touch of the Partridge about some of his moments and he brings most of the big laughs from the film. He and Owen Wilson play very well off of each other and if I was more cynical I’d predict a Direct to DVD spin off for the two.
New faces to the team as the sublime Hank Azaria, who plays the villain of the piece, Kahmunrah, and who provides the most hilarious moments of the film. His talent is so evident that he wades through the cliches and raises even the most basic of comedic situations. His performance is worth the price of the DVD in itself and he is ably supported by Amy Adams as the zesty aviatrix Amelia Earhart. Despite the ill conceived romance which blossoms between her and Larry she brings so much energy to the screen and the wise cracks kick the film into life. But that’s not enough to save it.
There is a confusing Jonah Hill cameo, a terribly underused Robin Williams and there are plot paths taken that are necessary only to elicit a particular emotion, as if a checklist was being worked through, and lead nowhere. It is less magical than the first film, and there is a real feeling that many of the ideas that should have been thrown out in the writer’s room where kept in as the special effects would look cool, or so the cameo count could rise. It’s a bloated beast that looks incredible, has its moments of brilliance but is a far less likeable film than the first, losing its charm beneath the CGI sheen.
There are some lovely touches. The tablet’s effect on the art gallery is great fun and Al Capone’s gangsters being rendered in black and white gives an idea of where the inventiveness of the film lies. If only the script held as much promise.
That said the Blu-ray is a thing of beauty and is an example of how a film like this would be bought into the home. The colours are crisp and the sound design incredibly involving, and the extras, which are listed below, make the most of the rich history contained in the film. With the interactive features, such as the Smartphone (think of a museum guide allowing you to find out more behind the exhibits on screen) and the Blu-ray specific Scavenger Hunt kids will have great fun with this disc. There are numerous behind the scenes featurettes and commentaries and if you enjoyed the first film you will certainly find a lot to appreciate here.
The triple pack Blu-ray, DVD and bonus digital copy comes out along with the standalone DVD on the 9th of November.
BLU-RAY DISC ONLY
Interactive Scavenger Hunt
Twelve Deleted Scenes
Historical Confessions: Famous Last Words
Museum Magic: Entering the World of the Photograph
Cavemen Conversations: Survival of the Wittiest
Secret Doors and Scientists: Behind the Scenes of the Natural History Museum
The Jonas Brothers in “Cherub Bootcamp”
Directing 201: A Day in the Life of Director/Producer Shawn Levy
Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making a Scene
Fox Movie Channel Presents: World Premiere
BLU-RAY DISC AND DVD
The Curators of Comedy: Behind the Scenes of NATM2
Commentary by Director Shawn Levy
Commentary by Writers Robert Ben Grant and Thomas Lennon