Ben Stiller returns as the night guardsman at a museum where the displays of historical figures suddenly come to life. 'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian' lives up to those stereotypes of the modern sequel. With a slightly bigger budget, the fantastical comedy is twice the size in scope and reverie, with two times the action and two times the adventure within a facility meant for conservation and public exhibition. Unfortunately, it lacks twice the enchantment and twice the laughs as the first. The film even comes with two monkeys slapping Stiller in the face for thinking this follow-up could match its predecessor.
Two years after the events of the first film, Larry Daley (Stiller) is now the CEO and founder of Daley Devices, a company that manufactures his inventions. Upon revisiting his former place of employment, he discovers the Museum of Natural History is closed for renovations, which means replacing the physical exhibits with interactive holograms. The majority of museum displays are being moved to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The following night, Jedediah (Owen Wilson) calls and explains that Dexter the Capuchin monkey stole Ahkmenrah's Tablet, animating all the exhibits at the new museum. Larry heeds the call and heads to the nation's capital to save the day.
Screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, co-creators of 'Reno 911!', know exactly what they're doing when putting pen to paper. As with any sequel, the usually funny duo aim to repeat the success of the first movie by giving the audience more of the same and then some. Not only do they double the size of the museum by having the plot take place at the Smithsonian, spanning 18 individual buildings, but they also expand the cast of characters to include Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Al Capone (Jon Bernthal), Napoleon (Alain Chabat), General Custer (Bill Hader), and Ahkmenrah's evil older brother Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria). Even Darth Vader and Oscar the Grouch make an appearance as would-be villains.
For the most part, it's all well and good. The filmmakers clearly have their hearts in the right place, trying to create interest in younger viewers for history museums, but there's just something about it that doesn't captivate as strongly as the first movie did. For one, there is so much going on with so many characters coming and going that jokes seem to be lost amidst all the special effects. While 'Battle of the Smithsonian' looks beautiful on the screen, and Shawn Levy does a terrific job at keeping the entertainment level high and grandiose, the narrative often feels forced and convenient rather than spontaneous and enchanting.
Whereas the previous film relied heavily on the wonderment and excitement of seeing the museum come alive, 'Battle of the Smithsonian' focuses too much on the action and the destruction of priceless antiquities. The characters, too, are stereotypical caricatures, including Stiller's performance as Larry. This isn't so much a bad thing, as it's unfunny and ineffectual. And though the romance brewing between Larry and Amelia is more awkward than serious, Adams's portrayal of the fast-talking, spunky pilot adds the much needed pizzazz to the comedy. Azaria, too, is splendid to watch as the flamboyant, pompous Egyptian king.
In spite of a few drawbacks within the narrative, 'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian' is still an entertaining 100-minutes of fantasy running through the halls of history. With Levy behind the wheel, the comedy is full of high-energy and enthusiasm. And with funny performances by Adams and Azaria, the film isn't a complete loss for the whole family to enjoy.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment houses 'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian' in a 3-disc package with a glossy slipcover. The first disc contains the film on a BD-50 Blu-ray while the second is a standard definition DVD of the movie, and the third disc is a digital copy. The main menu is an animated sequence that looks like a guided tour through a musuem, featuring many of the memorable characters from the movie.
'Battle of the Smithsonian' debuts with a first-rate and polished 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) that will make fans very happy with their purchase.
The freshly-minted transfer boasts an attractive cinematic quality and a warm palette in the photography, highlighting the benefits of hi-def video. Colors are accurately rendered and full-bodied, showing great variance in secondary hues. The picture also exhibits comfortably bright contrast levels, offering crisp whites and exceptional visibility of background info. Details in the architecture and various articles of clothing are resoundingly sharp and precise. There are several sequences which take place in poorly lit areas or nighttime exteriors, and a variety of objects remain discernible and clearly visible. Blacks are deeply rich and dynamic, providing the image with a nice depth of field. Flesh tones, too, appear warm and revealing, especially in close-ups. Occasionally, the image slightly softens, but it seems to be a result of John Schwartzman's photography rather than an issue with the transfer. Otherwise, this follow-up to 'Night at the Museum' looks terrific on Blu-ray.
Fox Home Entertainment also stamps an equally entertaining DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that brings the film to life nicely.
The lossless track arrives with a generally wide and open soundscape which fills the front speakers pleasantly. Dynamic range is sharp and robust, while acoustics and smooth channel separation provide the soundstage with a strong aural presence and inviting imaging. Character interaction and vocals are well-prioritized and intelligible even amidst the film's loudest, action-packed segments. Low-frequency bass is forceful and accurately responsive, adding good palpable depth to action sequences. Despite being mostly a front-heavy mix, the sound design allows for plenty of movement in the surrounds. When called upon, discrete effects not only afford an enjoyable atmosphere, but they also enhance the soundfield and maintain audience engagement. Moreover, the original musical score by Alan Silvestri complements the mix with slight bleeds in the rear speakers. Overall, the soundtrack is engaging and amusing.
Shawn Levy's follow-up to the museum blockbuster arrives on Blu-ray with over two hours of bonus material. It's all a pretty good package of fun after the movie is over and mostly presented in high definition. This Blu-ray edition shares nearly all the same features, except two: the children's activity "Monkey Slap & Abel" and "Dexter's Flights of Fancy".
This follow-up to the wildly successful 'Night at the Museum' is twice the size in scope and cast. Unfortunately, 'Battle of the Smithsonian' lacks twice the laughter and enchantment, placing more effort on the action and effects rather than the very wonderment of seeing museum exhibits come to life. This Blu-ray edition of the film arrives with an excellent audio and video presentation that will surely make any fan run out and buy a copy. The wealth of supplements, especially the exclusive material, is enjoyable and adds to the purchase value. The entire Blu-ray package is recommended.