Friday, October 9, 2015

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) Review:

Ben Stiller and director/producer Shawn Levy have worked together for quite some time now. It may not seem like much but Levy has been attached to a number of Mr. Stiller's films. For a partnership to occur, there are always pros and cons. A positive side to this would be that the two are comfortable with each other. They know their quirks, habits, preferences, attitude and whatever else. This means the possibility of having conflicting ideas is slim to none. However, the downside to this kind of double act is that if not looked after, the method of which going about making certain projects becomes repetitive and no longer unique. In other words, the people working on the project begin to get lazy with what they are doing and do not put much extra thought into it. Unfortunately it seems as though the sequel to the hit family film Night at the Museum (2006) went more of a marketing direction.

Hank Azaria as Ahkmunrah
Audiences who saw the first movie reconnect with now ex-night guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) as the owner and inventor of Daley Devices. Turns out a few months after Daley found his dream job, which was working at the Museum of Natural History, his own business took off and left the museum to pursue his own goals. As a result, the owner Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais) agreed with the board of directors that it is time to retire the physical models and put in new technology for people to enjoy because "everybody loves new technology". With that, all of Daley's friends from the first movie get shipped off to the Smithsonian in DC where they get stored with all the other kinds of ancient artifacts. But when it turns out the mystical tablet that brings everyone to life was also shipped to the Smithsonian and Ahkmenrah's (Rami Malek) brother Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) wants the tablet to release his army from the underworld, Daley decides he needs to get it back before the whole Smithsonian becomes a mess.

The script penned by the writers from before (Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon) demonstrated that they favored more special appearances than anything else. The plot exists but it takes a backseat to a lot of special effects and a forced subplot. Seriously though there are a lot of appearances by other characters/actors. There's scenes with Eugene Levy, Jonah Hill, Clint Howard, George Foreman, Caroll Spinney, Christopher Guest, Jay Baruchel, Alain Chabat, Jon Bernthal and even a dark lord of the sith (and that doesn't even go with a museum). That's also just the tip of the iceberg. Then you have the main new additions consisting of Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart and Bill Hader as General Custer. Now add that to the original cast of the first movie and you see there's a lot to look after. It's nice and all to see these various individuals show up but some of it feels rushed while others feel out of place. One of those parts that feels really out of place is the romance between Larry and Amelia Earhart. The idea of having Teddy Roosevelt and Sacajawea having a romance is acceptable because they both know where they stand. However, a human and a wax figure? Who thought of including that in the script? Wasn't Daley's life turned around at the end of the last movie anyway?

The humor to this movie does feel like it was improved a little but unfortunately it still misses several times. Ben Stiller finally doesn't react so jitterishly but his character is still forced to do things he doesn't want to do. Either that or incessant bickering between him and Kahmunrah. The actor who probably had the best comedic moments was Hank Azaria as Kahmunrah, there are some moments that feel more spontaneous than scripted. The special effects although overabundant are creative in a number of ways and it is interesting to see how all the other pieces of artwork come to life due to the tablet. It does bring up a question as to what's the signal strength of this tablet? At first it seemed as if it only reached from with inside the Museum of Natural History. Now it seems as if it go beyond state borders. How does that work? That's also not the only noticeable thing left unchecked. There are lots of damages that occur and yet later on none of it is spoken of? And how does one sneak into the Smithsonian with nobody else seeing what's going on? Don't they have night guards?

That forced relationship though
The cinematography shot by John Schwartzman who has worked on all ranges of projects either wide scale (Armageddon (1998)) or small (Airheads (1994)) looks adequate for this film. Some of it is CGI driven but most of the scenes nicely capture the grand scope of how vastly enormous the Smithsonian is and how many things are kept locked away. Schwartzman also went on to film for The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and Jurassic World (2015). Creating the film score is returning composer Alan Silvestri from the first film. Silvestri maintains the wondrous main theme from the first entry and expands on that by including new tracks. One specific track is more synthetic because it involves Larry infiltrating the Smithsonian. Another track sounds more like his work from that of The Mummy Returns (2001) because of Kahmunrah's army from the underworld. Is it worth collecting? Not exactly, but it still is an easygoing listening experience.

This sequel really tries by giving its fans some improved humor and loads of historical characters and other actor cameos but that's really where it gets hung up. The music, cinematography, acting and special effects are all commendable, but it attempts to tackle more than it can handle leading to a forced romance and a lot of continuity errors.

Points Earned --> 5:10

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