Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

It’s two years later (in movie time) and Larry Daley (Ben Stiller, deadpan and befuddled in the perfect way) has abandoned his security gig at NYC’s Museum of Natural History to run an invention empire. He’s rich, he’s successful… but is he happy? Doesn’t seem so.

When a number of the museum’s most treasured exhibits – coincidentally, all of Larry’s long-ignored friends from the first film – are boxed up and sent to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. in the name of progress, and the magical Egyptian tablet is smuggled along by Dexter the monkey, havoc is unleashed. Because not only do all the familiar faces return (albeit in secondary capacities, story-wise), but a whole new slew of historical figures comes to life. Among them are Amelia Earhart (Adams), who’s whip-smart, sassy and ready for adventure; General Custer (SNL’s Bill Hader), who’s more pretty-boy than effective leader; the earnest and honest Lincoln monument; and, most troublesome of all, Egyptian prince Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), who’s got a chip on his shoulder the size of a pyramid and who’s hellbent on taking over the world with an army of the undead. So it’s up to Larry and his allies (including Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan as plucky, pint-sized figurines, Jedediah and Octavius, respectively) to thwart Kahmunrah’s nefarious plot and return order to the hallowed halls of the Smithsonian.

Fun from its first frame to its last, NATM: BOTS entertains. Layer upon layer is added to the proceedings, and the filmmakers’ keen sense of pacing allows surprises to  spring up throughout the action. I won’t give any away, because a big part of the joy is watching them unspool onscreen for yourself, but there was one gallery sequence that was so amazingly unexpected and brilliant that I would recommend the film for those 10 minutes alone. The screenplay is intelligent and extremely witty, and I laughed out loud often.

The cast is stellar, from the extended cameos (Jonah Hill as a self-important security guard is one of the more hilarious tangents) to the leads. In casting Adams, the filmmakers have given Larry a true onscreen equal – Amelia is a take-charge kind of gal, who knows what she wants and how to get it, and without her the film would deflate almost entirely. The role is well-written, three-dimensional and super-fun… but the full scope of Adams’ nuanced work is realized in her character’s final scene, where she truly shines and reminds the audience why she was nominated for an Oscar. She makes the movie.

Just as great is Azaria’s Kahmunrah, who speaks with a hoity-toity British accent… and a lisp. He’s dry, he’s goofy and his insecurities creep to the surface in hysterical ways. He is what all foils, comic or otherwise, should be in a movie like this.

Jam-packed with goodness, Battle of the Smithsonian is a film that the entire family can enjoy.

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