"Night at the Museum – Battle for the Smithsonian" is an example of 'sequel-it is'. Because the first film was a hit, the filmmakers have now made a sequel where everything is simply amped up. Unfortunately, this sort of takes away from what made the first film so unexpectedly good; "Night at the Museum" was kind of magical. As an adult, we could imagine wandering through an old Natural History museum and meeting all of the characters as they come to life. For the sequel, the Museum is bigger, there are more characters running around and everything is louder and faster. But definitely not better.
Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) now owns a successful mail-order company, the type with products advertised in infomercials featuring George Forman. His most successful product? A large flashlight. Even though Larry is now a millionaire, he still visits the Museum of Natural History, reluctant to let his friends go. When he visits one night, he finds all of the exhibits being boxed in preparation for shipping to their new home, to make way for new holographic exhibits. Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais) almost proudly announces that all of the dusty exhibits are being shipped off to the Federal Archives below the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. That night, as Larry is visiting with his son, he gets a call from Jedediah (Owen Wilson). The monkey grabbed the Egyptian Tablet and now the entire Smithsonian is running amok and Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), an Egyptian King, is trying to get the tablet to open an Egyptian Gate to the Underworld. Larry speeds down to DC and quickly outwits a Smithsonian guard (Jonah Hill) gaining access to the archives. When the exhibits wake up, Kahmunrah recruits Napoleon and Al Capone, and their respective armies, to retrieve the tablet for him. Larry meets Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and General Custer (Bill Hader) who help him battle the evil King.
Directed by Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum", "The Pink Panther", "Cheaper By The Dozen") and co-written by Robert Ben Garant ("Reno 911!" "Balls of Fury", "Night at the Museum") and Thomas Lenon ("Reno 911!" "Balls of Fury"), "Night at the Museum 2" is a case of a kid running wild in the candy store. The filmmakers were given more money (because it is a sequel) and they wanted to make a bigger film filled with more special effects. Unfortunately, in the process, they were unable to retain the magic of the first. One of the key reasons for this is the relationship between Larry and his son is pushed to the sidelines. When Larry has to jet to Washington, DC, his son stays at home in New York. They have a brief phone conversation, but Larry quickly loses reception as he enters the archives.
Strangely, Robin Williams is also pushed to the sidelines, a bit. Teddy Roosevelt briefly explains the situation to Larry, but for some reason, they are not shipping his statue to Washington. He is staying behind. When Larry and Amelia are running around, they happen upon the Hall of Presidents and Williams provides the voice for a bust of Roosevelt, giving them some advice. Perhaps they figured Williams and Azaria in the same film would be too much.
But when Larry arrives at the Smithsonian, he quickly hooks up with General Custer (Bill Hader, TV's "Saturday Night Live"). Hader is good, revealing some insecurity the famous General may have had, but this is essentially a remix of the Teddy Roosevelt character. Why not just stick with him?
There are two really good additions to the film. Hank Azaria plays Kahmunrah, the Egyptian King. Azaria is a gifted comedian and has a real talent with voices and impersonations; he plays many characters on "The Simpsons". In "Museum" he does a spot on impersonation of Boris Karloff capturing the great film actor's inflections, mannerisms, speech patterns. Why does he do this? Because Karloff famously played "The Mummy" in the early 30s. The Mummy was an Egyptian King who wanted to comeback from the dead and rule again. Kahmunrah is an Egyptian King who wants to come back from the dead and rule again. It's a natural leap.
What I think is even more impressive about Azaria's performance is that 95% of the audience won't even know he is trying to emulate the film icon. But he almost appears to have brought Karloff back from the dead.
Azaria also provides the voices for statues of Lincoln and The Thinker, both of which come alive when the tablet arrives at the Smithsonian.
Amy Adams plays Amelia Earhart and she is a kick. She seems to be channeling the spirit of Rosalind Russell or Jean Arthur, firing her dialogue at Larry like she has just come in from a night dancing with Fred Astaire at the Trocadero before flying across the Atlantic. She has moxy and looks like a gal who can hold her own. It is a nice, fun performance.
As Larry and all of the other characters begin chasing each other through the various museums of the Smithsonian, Larry quickly realizes the tablet has more power than he originally thought. Modern art installations come to life; paintings and photos become real and more. There is an amusing bit with one of the photos, but this new 'bit' just seems to be a little excessive, like the kids running amok in the candy store. We can do what with all of the extra money we have? Hooray. However, when they do this, they simply throw the magic and quaintness of the original out the window.
And that is ultimately the problem with "Night at the Museum – Battle for the Smithsonian"; it doesn't achieve the right balance between character and special effects, story and madcap chase, dialogue and volume.