House of wax…
Two years after his eye-opening stint as a night guard at New York’s Natural History Museum, where he had his hands full with exhibits that come alive at night, Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) has made his fortune as an inventor. But when he discovers that his old pals, including Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson), are being shipped off to the Federal Archives at Washington’s sprawling Smithsonian Museum, Larry realises they need his help; particularly as ancient Egyptian king Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) has his mind set on taking over the world. Arriving at the Smithsonian, Larry – helped by feisty female pilot Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) – must take on a mind-blowing array of exhibits, some friend and some foe, if he is to save the day.
The strength of Shawn Levy’s 2006 original was undoubtedly its attention to detail, and the same is true of this colourful sequel. By moving the action to Washington’s humungous Smithsonian (of which Americans are quite rightly proud; the full US title for the film being Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian), which houses artefacts from Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers to Rodin’s The Thinker, the scope has widened significantly. And, when the sun goes down, every inch of Levy’s frame is filled with life as everything from to the toys in the museum’s shop – including some quirky Albert Einstein bobbleheads – to the huge statue of Honest Abe at the Lincoln Memorial coming to energetic life. The CGI is simply terrific, with even the most fleeting of exhibits being beautifully realised.
The most interesting use of computer effects comes in the Smithsonian’s vast picture collection; not only are classics like Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic and Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photograph VJ Day, The Kiss given incredible life but they are also intrinsically involved in the action. And this minute attention to detail carries through the rest of the movie; that Al Capone (John Bernthal) and his henchman are in black and white is just one small, effective example.
Of course, as in the first film, Night at the Museum 2 does rely heavily on its effects to fuel its running time. The story is flimsy, and follows the same obvious path as its predecessor, in that Larry must fight not just to save his waxy friends but also to discover a true sense of self. The screenplay, however, is sharp and moves along at a clip, with Hank Azaria undoubtedly stealing the show as far as the comic delivery is concerned. And although the attraction between Larry and Amelia is a rather clichéd plot point, Adams is bubbly and endearing enough to make it work.
Clever, charming and with enough fire-power to hold the attention and raise a chuckle, Night at the Museum 2 hasn’t strayed far from the winning formula of simple story and complex CGI set down by the first film. And why should it, as it’s shaping up to be a successful, enduring and dependable family franchise.
Stars Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Robin Williams, Ricky Gervais
Director Shawn Levy
Screenplay Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon
Distributor 20th Century Fox
Running Time 1hr 45mins
Opens May 20th