Movie #44 2021: Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

Look, I paid for a year’s worth of Disney+, so I’m getting the most out of it. I realise that this sequel has pretty poor reviews, and to that, I simply say this: do you people hate joy?

Battle of the Smithsonian is the first of two sequels to the original Night at the Museum movie, starring Ben Stiller as museum night guard, Larry. In case you missed it, the museum that Larry takes care of is no ordinary museum; within its walls is a magical ancient tablet that ensures all exhibits come to life at night. Everything from dinosaur skeletons to Native American tribes re-animate themselves as soon as the sun goes down – nothing is off-limits. In this instalment, Larry no longer works at the New York museum, and is now pretty well-off because of his new-found success as the founder of a company that sells inventions. Quite quickly, he finds out that most of the museum’s exhibits are being transferred to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. without the tablet, meaning they’ll no longer get to come to life. It is then up to him to follow his friends to the capital in order to save them from becoming extinct forever.

If you’re from the United Kingdom, you may be quite familiar with what I’ve about to tell you. For years, Night at the Museum (the original movie) was shown at least 12 times a week on UK television, so I’ve seen it more times than I’d like to admit. And I’m sure many other readers experienced the same fate. Somehow though, I dodged both of the sequels, probably due to the fact that they never seemed to be shown on TV and also because there’s no way I was spending money to buy the DVDs. So here goes nothing…

Part of the charm of the first movie in this franchise is how funny it was. So some of the jokes fall a little flat (specifically Jonah Hill in general) this time round, and most are indeed re-hashed from the first film, but it’s still super fun to watch. I guess some people forget that these films are, y’know… for KIDS?! The best thing is that this sort of thing will heighten interest in historical figures too, and it’s always a bonus when films for kids are a little bit educational too, surely. 

Other than that, the film has some downfalls. Namely, I can’t look past the terrible CGI. For example, several sequences feature giant octopus/squid thingy… and it’s just awful. Not only that, but one of the green screens are really poorly done and Al Capone looks like a bad photoshop job. Even with such shoddy attempts at life-like visuals, it’s effective enough to be watchable. And indeed, no kid on Earth would even notice.

Cast the special effects to one side though, and what you get is a pretty decent story. The writers did a really good job of separating this one from its predecessor: there’s a new location, new characters, a new conflict, and so forth. Somehow, these writers have kept Battle of the Smithsonian from being more of the same, and I particularly liked the inclusion of the art exhibits this time round too. Who doesn’t want to witness a glorious joke aimed at Rodin’s The Thinker? It all felt like the best form of blasphemy aimed at the classical arts.

As mentioned, the inventiveness behind involving new characters was really great here. This time, we’re blessed with Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, and General Custer, to name but a few. Amy Adams is delightful (even if they made Amelia Earhart kind of annoying and simplistic) but I must complain that there’s not enough Robin Williams. There should have been more of him and that’s that on that. Hank Azaria ramps up the comedy as the villain at least, proving he’s not just a The Simpsons voice actor, but also a truly funny dude.

So it’s pretty average and the plot is long-winded and barely there, but are the horrendous views really warranted?! Come on, film community, have some joy. If nothing else, it’s fun to spot all the actors from The Office, but I didn’t hate it either way! It’s all in good spirit after all.

I do have one major grumble with it, but purely because I’m a nerd. The worst thing is, they had General Custer and Sacagawea meet, and they didn’t think to mention… you know… oh, whatever.

Sure, it’s not the greatest kids’ movie that ever graced our screens, but bad? Not by a mile.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is available to stream on Disney+ in the UK.

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