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It’s actually “Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian”, which is far too wordy a title for a summer release. (And the subtitle is lazily left out of the trailer.) But it does serve to tell us all we need to know here, which is that this is the second installment of the Museum franchise, and said museum this time around is the Smithsonian, (the museum “big leagues”, apparently).
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To prepare for this film I watched a lot of sequel comedy films. Movies that were made because the first film was such a hit, they found themselves in the position of making another one because the studios wanted it and it will pay the original creative team a much higher salary to come back.
Plus, it's almost like a reunion for everyone to come back, reprise their roles and crew positions and have another fun ride for 3-5 months while also making a film in the process.
There are a few problems with this scenario though.
#1 - The original film had an official ending and there was no intention to make another one. So they have to figure out a crazy story so everyone would be back in their usual situations. It's forced writing and this type of writing is dangerous because it doesn't come from a natural creative situation.
#2 - There isn't anymore pressure because they know the studios will treat this film right and market it to the masses. So, many times they are perhaps having more fun than necessary on set. Think Ocean's 12 and City Slickers 2.
#3 - There is a style to the jokes in the original film that the writers and actors have created almost organically that define the emotional arc and overall laughter which made the film a hit in the first place. Now they must recreate that charm on set and what happens is that it's forced. No one laughs when people are trying too hard to make us laugh. Laughter needs to come from a relaxed place not from a mechanical place. It's almost like a robot trying to tell Chris Rock's stand-up jokes. They wouldn't be funny because Chris Rock isn't telling them.
Night at the Museum 2 is not as enjoyable to watch as the first film because the original had the ultimate fish out of water conflict hanging over the main character (and we the audience because we are seeing what they see) throughout. He's no longer out of the water but swimming comfortably amongst the wax figures who've come to life. So really there isn't nearly as much conflict as the first film. And 99 times out of a 100, the more conflict in a comedy, the funnier the film.
That said, Night at the Museum 2 isn't as bad as most sequel comedies. There is a certain charm to this film after the first act, which just took way too long to get going. It's the new characters that appear in the film that make this an entertaining movie for both kids and adults to see (plus educational too).
Hank Azaria does triple duty (much like what he does for The Simpsons) playing Kahmunrah, the films main antagonist who is also very funny (naturally). Plus, he also does the voices of The Thinker and the giant Abe Lincoln (who is the twist of the film - enough said!). Azaria is terrific playing Kahnunrah, especially the scene when he rounds up his new team of generals in Al Capone, Napoleon and Ivan the Terrible.
Amy Adams plays Amelia Earhart, Stiller's sidekick plus possible love interest. I joked in a recent PODCAST that Stiller falling for a wax figure is a strange storyline for a kids film. But they played this plot very well and Amelia Earhart is a terrific role model for all the young woman and men out there. A historical figure that we all should know about (and soon to be a movie starring Hilary Swank). Adams is turning into a Meryl Streep like actress who is able to act in any genre. This is someone who has a terrific future ahead of her.
I enjoyed this film. It's theme is a cliche but a good one to recycle. To do what you love and spend time with the people you love. What our main character learns at the end. Something Ben Stiller playing that main character seemed to figure out a long time ago. This is a guy who makes about three films a year and always works with all of his friends. And why not? He loves making films and will do is as long as they let him. And looking at his recent successes, it's something he should be doing for a long time. The formula of doing a kids film, then an adult film, then his own film and back to a kids film. It seem to work.
But please, no Night at the Museum 3. Battle of the Smithsonian should be the last one.