I didn't particularly enjoy my first Night at the Museum as I thought it had tried really hard to be funny, and going from set piece to set piece from within the New York Museum of Natural History, taking a while before it got its engine cranking. For me, the funniest Ben Stiller comedies had been the relatively more adult fare like There's Something About Mary, The Heartbreak Kid and such, but this family friendly fare surprised me, and belonged to the rare few sequels which actually surpassed the original.
This Battle of the Smithsonian (Singapore opted to drop this subtitle for the more idiot-proof numerical "2") has Shawn Levy going back to the director's chair, and written by the returning team of Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, who seemed more at ease this time round in bringing back the characters created some 3 years ago, while infusing a lot more of new folks without breaking a sweat. For those like me who believe that bigger is not a certainty it's better, this night at the museum proved that it can be delivered and done so with more fun as well.
If you can get past the idea that in 3 years, Ben Stiller's night guard Larry Daley is now a CEO of a company making household products, and from time to time still visits his old friends back at the Museum such as Octavius of Rome (Steve Coogan), cowboy Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallgher), Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), "dum-dum" Easter Island Head (Brad Garrett), the skeletal T-Rex and the mischievious monkey, whom we all have gotten acquainted with in the first film. Dr McPhee (Ricky Gervais) now informs him that these old exhibits will now be archived in Washington's Smithsonian Institute (hence the title), but Monkey decides to bring along Ahkmenrah's magical golden tablet responsible for their nocturnal coming to life, hence setting up the new adventures for Larry when he receives a distress call from Jedediah.
Played out like a rescue mission, Larry becomes embroiled in new adventures now set in Washington, where a larger footprint of exhibits offers a lot more artifacts coming to life and providing some entertainment, ranging from pop culture references to Hank Azaria hamming it up as chief villain Egyptian Pharaoh Kahmunrah who speaks with a nasty lisp. Joining his villanous plan to take over the world (with possession of the tablet Larry now holds) are historical bad guys like Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon Bonaparte (Alan Chabat), Al Capone (Jon Bernthal) and his posse of gangsters who happen to be in black and white.
On the side of the good guys, we have the gigantic Abraham Lincoln and The Thinker (also voiced by Azaria), a not-too-bright General Custer (Bill Hader), Sailor Joey Motorola (Jay Baruchel), an American Gothic painting, some bobbing-heads Albert Einstein (Eugene Levy) and singing Jonas Brothers cupids. Amy Adam's sprightly Amelia Earhart provides for some strong feminine influence opposite Larry Daley, and an angle for a romantic subplot too.
It's not much of a plot as well this time round, but the larger scale provides an avenue of the night time activities to go beyond the four walls of one museum. This time round it doesn't try too hard to be funny because it actually is, with Hank Azaria stealing plenty of thunder each time he comes on screen with his Kahmunrah almost always screaming. The scenes he shares with Stiller were some of the best here, especially with the insane dialogue coupled with their comical timing that would provide me reason enough to watch this film again.
Other than that, this new outing at the museum allows for a perfect family outing to the cinemas, being family friendly as it is with nary a swear word or violence, which is cartoony of course. Predictable but has its moments, thanks to the expanded cast of familiar faces, and new ones to the franchise (yes, I predict there's enough bandwidth for another round!)